Italian cuisine is appreciated everywhere in the world because of the quality of its produce. “It is a cuisine that does not require specific emphasis on technique but rather allows the flavours and colours of the produce to speak for themselves. For this reason, it is also easier to understand at the first impact,” says Anthony Genovese, chef of Roman restaurant Il Pagliaccio.
The two Michelin star chef was born in France in 1968 from Italian parents and spent a long time in the South of France despite his Calabrian roots.
After travelling from France to England, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand he ended up in Ravello at the Hotel Palazzo Sasso and Rossellini’s restaurant where he got his first Michelin star. “It was normal to end up in Rome because it is a city I have always loved. When I was called to go there, I had no second thoughts. Unfortunately it did not end well because the restaurant closed. But being a stubborn Calabrian, I decided to stay and try again.”
An Italian who learned his trade in France, he says it is difficult to describe his cuisine. “It is a personal cuisine and the fruits of my time in France, in Italy and my travels. These three experiences have shaped my style and my personality in the kitchen,” he tells me.
We speak about the importance of technique when you have good produce. “I firmly believe that technique should be of service to the produce and not vice versa. Ten to 12 years ago there was too much technique being used. We would have clients who would ask what they have eaten. We would reply, that’s a prawn and they would say ‘ahh, thank you, I didn’t realise,” Genovese said.
Technique is important because it can help add flavour but it should not take over the ingredients, Genovese believes.
Cooking is about loving, giving, sharing
The Italian chef finds his inspiration from everywhere. “Just being here, looking at the sea. You can be inspired anywhere. I listen, I think listening in life is essential. You should not close yourself. I read a lot, I listen, I like to travel. You also need to love life. Cooking is about loving, giving and sharing. This is important, essential. Un cuoco cattivo non sara mai un gran cuoco (A mean chef can never be a great chef).”
Like many other chefs, Anthony Genovese has great respect for guides like Michelin because they help to give restaurants and chefs needed recognition.
“We have gone through many changes over the past 10 years. We have removed tablecloths, service is no longer slow. We are in following society and its rapid movement. Even Michelin have had to change to follow these new trends. But I am always of the view that a great kitchen and respect for your customers are always important and this is something that will never change,” he tells me.
I ask him what importance he gives to social media and he tells me that people wanting to judge him are welcome to do so as long as they do it with respect and with a bit of knowledge. But I cannot accept this when people think they are sacred cows.”
He mentions Alain Passard, Pierre Gaignaire and Pinchiorri as the chefs that he admired most. “It’s from here that I started. The past is always important. It needs to be respected and followed. We need to look into the future without forgetting the past. Without history, we are nothing,” Genovese says.
Genovese believes that Italian cuisine has made great progress over the years. “Our problem is that we do not know how to sell ourselves like the Spanish or the Scandinavians do. But there is a group of Italian chefs that are really very strong, We are much stronger than them.”
He tels me that the reason for this is the quality of the produce, the tradition of Italy’s cuisine. “It is in our DNA. We have always eaten well in Italy. Italian cuisine is very approachable but our handicap is that we are sometimes associated with the ‘cucina povera’.
But that is not a bad thing, even if some people are sometimes taken by surprise when they eat in Italy.
Genovese loves Asian cuisine. He tells me his favourite cuisine apart from Italian is Vietnamese. “I love the combination of sweet and sour, the use of herbs and the flavours. I also love Japanese and Thai but Vietnamese is my favourite,” he tells me.
He believes that events like Flemish Food Bash are important. “They are a break from our daily routine. It is a way to relax, joke, meet new people. You need to come with a different kind of philosophy and not take it too seriously like in the restaurant.”
The Italian chef made a Pasta alla Norma with a twist at Flemish Food Bash. Check out the recipe in the coming days.