We speak to head chef Pino Lavarra, who amongst a fair few other things, was at some point actually crowned as ‘One of the Best Chefs in the World’ (a legitimate achievement) by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. Since early days Pino’s been taking Southern Italian cuisine to the rest of the world, and he seems to be doing a pretty good job, all things considered!
As a guy boasting two Michelin stars and decades of experience in eateries the world over, when it comes to interviews Pino probably doesn’t feel the need to give all that much away anymore. And that’s fine, so we simply asked him more and more questions to compensate for it :3
And so, here’s to less words from me, and more words from the ‘Cucina d’autore extraordinaire…’
Full Name: Giuseppe Lavarra
Birthplace: Putignano, Italy
Personal Site: N/A
Fun fact: “I’ve created an amuse bouche every single day for the last 10 years”
I read that your mother inspired you to start your journey as a chef…so if you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Difficult to say, but, I guess a hair stylist, as, before exploring my creativity in the culinary world I was working as a trainee hairdresser.
Though you’re in HK at the moment, you’ve cooked in many places, and you spent a fair bit of time in the UK. Obviously, Italian food and drink is extremely popular here in the UK, are there any British foods and drinks that are popular in Italy?
Roast beef and fish and chips are very popular and obviously beer and pubs are all over the country.
Starting out, you worked with many well known names in the world of fine dining, where you no doubt honed your craft. But how does the learning process work? Do you apprentice under them? How do they teach you and what do you learn? Could you outline it for us?
I went and worked for some of great talented chefs and they passed to me their views and passions of the culinary world. Obviously, you work for them and learn some of the finest techniques, but, the cooking is evolving; new techniques are coming out, better knowledge and the finest ingredients and chefs can outline their views and favorite dishes.
Two Michelin stars, “One of the Best Chefs in the World” etc. – you’ve won a heck of a lot of praise for your work (congrats by the way!). Of your many achievements, which are you most proud of?
All of them . . . but, the second star is oh so sweet!
You’ve come up with quite a few creative (and I hear delicious) new recipes. What’s the development process like for a new recipe, how do you do it and where do you get your inspiration?
Difficult to answer, ingredients, creativity and a strong background can make it happen. I don’t know where they come from but, I know that they develop in my fantasy before I start to place it on a plate.
I read at your latest posting, Tosca, you’re combining West and East in the form of Italian and Malaysian. How are you doing it?
In Tosca, I only serve Italian as it is my job is to give you the Italian experience. I worked in Malaysia, but, I’m not cooking Malay food. Some of the knowledge I’ve learned there is used in my food, but not the ingredients.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I enjoy all from creating, surprising guests, teaching, learning to assembling . . .
What’s one food or dish that most people probably haven’t tried, but you’d recommend?
The one I will make tomorrow . . .
What are your most beloved and hated foods, and why?
Italian, because I do Italian better. Hated: junk food. We have to eat healthy, fresh and properly made food.
And which ingredients do you like most and least to cook with?
No preferences, I like them all, the ones I don’t like are not on my menu.
What’s your favourite place to have worked so far?
Tosca, I feel I am on top of the world (Tosca is likely the highest Italian restaurant in the world!)
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the life of Pino?
Wake up at 7.30, come to work at 8.30. Half an hour of briefing with my staff, reply to my emails and do computer work until 10.30 including work appointments with suppliers and preparation for lunch services. Break at 3pm, coffee time with my wife and three kids for one hour, preparation of dinner service, check that the job has been done properly, start dinner service until 10.30pm. Check the orders for the following day, go back home…
What’s your culinary philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Fresh ingredients, best cooking techniques to enhance the ingredients, taste great, look nice.
What’s the greatest cooking experience you’ve ever had?
Creating three dishes originally dedicated to my three kids, plus, organizing the Stravaganza Mediterranea in 2009. Cooking with the top chefs in the world, 30 people, just for one day. People like Rene Redzepy, Santi Santamaria, Oriol Ballaguer, Albert Adria, Mathias Dalghreen, Sergio Herman.
Could you share a few simple tips that us regular chefs could use to improve the quality of the food we cook?
Buy fresh ingredients, cook them to how they inspire you, and you must always love what you do. If you don’t like it, your guests will not like it.
What advice would you give to aspiring professional chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Work with passion, patience, love and enthusiasm. If you have this, the result will arrive.
And, where next for you?
Tosca is my near future. At the moment, I have no other plans, I could stay for the next five years, or the next 20 . . .
And we always ask a few customary ridiculous questions…
You’ve been sent back in time and made head chef of the Imperial Palace in ancient Rome. You’ve been tasked to provide a three course banquet for Emperor Nero and his court. What do you make him?
I believe at that time there were not many fridges, chill blasters etc., so whatever was available, cook it to perfection…
- 1st: Carpaccio with rucola, sheep cheese, olive oil and truffle
- 2nd: Slow-cooked pork with burned eggplant and baked apple
- 3rd: Spaghetti with garlic, walnuts, garum and parsley
- 4th: Zabaione with marsala (…make it four just to add a dessert)
Same as before but you’ve now been transported to an entirely new universe, and made head chef of Mordor. It’s time to cook a three course banquet for the Dark Lord Sauron and his orcs. What do you come up with?
Maybe the same . . . but let’s have a list of ingredients from Middle Earth first!