Heinz Beck, executive chef of the only three Michelin star restaurant in Rome, is one of Italy’s best chefs. Known for his healthy cooking, maybe unusual for a three-Michelin star chef, the German born Beck has been in Rome for the past 21 years.
He was the only three Michelin star chef to cook at the Flemish Food Bash held earlier this month on the Belgian coast. We caught up with him for an interview just as the floodgates opened during the lunch service.
Amid lightning, thunder and heavy rain, Beck had to improvise moving the space around to ensure that he and his staff didn’t end up serving water-lodged pasta.
I had to ask him whether these were the most difficult cooking conditions he had every encountered. He smiles and tells me it is not difficult, but different. He told Food and Wine Gazette that “these events are always very nice. Unfortunately we have a bit of a problem with the weather.”
Luckily, the weather conditions improved later in the day.
Beck is a firm believer in healthy eating. And he is leading by example. “For many years now, I have been focusing on healthy eating, studying and thinking of how we can propose a cuisine that uses the right material, the right cooking times and quality produce. We have been studying ingredients, techniques and how we can combine ingredients and raw materials. The studying enables us to better understand the produce, look for better quality and also create dishes that are easier to digest.”
He wants to assure me that it is not about a diet. “In the end, we are not cooking diet food but 3 Michelin star cooking. We still produce high quality food but our philosophy at La Pergola is to not only focus on high quality but also to help people digest the food and make guests feel better.”
The German chef said that dining is not just about finishing the meal and paying the bill, but it is also how you feel and wake up the day after.
He takes this very seriously and has published books on the subject of blood pressure and food. A more recent book focuses on recipes and tips for young children as a way of combating child obesity.
I ask him what it feels like to be a non-Italian with the only three Michelin star restaurant in Rome. La Pergola has held 3 Michelin stars for the past 10 years. “It feels very good,” he tells me. “But of course you have to always keep focus to ensure that the quality remains high. You need to innovate, and strive to make new and better dishes.”
La Pergola has won all possible accolades from the major Italian gastronomic guides such as L’Espresso, Gambero Rosso and Bibenda among others. It has been consistently voted as the best restaurant in Rome and one of the best in Italy and it is renowned for its exceptional view from the terrace.
Beck describes his cooking as ‘light Mediterranean food with good flavours, big heart and passion’.
Having been in Italy for 21 years he has seen Italian cuisine evolve. “Cooking is developing, growing and going ahead. It has changed considerably. But I can say that Italian cooking is very up to date, modern and in a perfect way. We do not need to follow other kitchens, we do our own kitchen with our own heritage,” he says.
What Italy needs to do is to promote itself more. “Italy has many great chefs doing excellent work and I do not think we are less than other countries,” Beck said.
Was it difficult for Beck to be accepted in Italy? He tells me it was not difficult at all because he immediately had clients and his followers.
The German chef is known for his incredible work ethic. He rarely, if ever, misses a service at La Pergola. But he also has other restaurants. There are 3 in Italy, 2 in Japan, 2 in Dubai and 1 in Algarve. I ask him how important it is for him and also how he manages to keep control. “We are closed two days a week at La Pergola and we open only in the evenings. “At lunch time I am cooking in the Italian restaurants and normally I am visiting the other restaurants on Sunday and Monday. It is very important to export cooking because the world is getting smaller and smaller and we have to think global.”
He makes the football analogy and and says that at first you play in the local league, then in the national league, then in the champions league and finally you get to play the World Cup. “It is extremely important nowadays,” Beck said.
Look out for Heinz Beck’s recipe of gnocchetti with grana padano with smoked potato served on a bed of pea purée and lime marinated shrimps tomorrow.