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Father figures

Father figures: Italian chefs and their papàs

by Clare Gazzard 13 March 2017

The family is at the heart of virtually everything in Italy, no less so than in the kitchens of many of the country’s greatest restaurants. The role of the father figure is particularly poignant, celebrated with St Joseph's Day on 19 March (the Italian Father's Day). Here we look at three pivotal roles the fathers of some of our Great Italian Chefs have played in their success.

Many of us credit our fathers with being an inspiration in our lives, whether it’s through following directly in their footsteps or by being given the drive and determination to achieve great things. We found four such stories when talking to chefs Ernesto Iaccarino, the Cerea Brothers, Luca and Antonio Abbruzzino and Igles Corelli.

Following in his footsteps

Ernesto Iaccarino was always destined to be a chef, but matching the career success of his father, Alfonso, was never going to be an easy prospect.

Alfonso built up the reputation of restaurant Don Alfonso 1890 over several decades, achieving it’s first of three (it now holds two) Michelin stars in 1985, before going on to have international acclaim with a second restaurant in Macau. A renowned character in the culinary world, he counts everyone from Alain Ducasse to Ferran Adria as friends and acquaintances, has traveled extensively and holds strong opinions on ingredients and produce. So passionate is he about food, that rather than retiring fully from the kitchen – and enjoying a well-deserved rest – he now runs the family gardens which supply fresh produce for the restaurant.

All-in-all, some rather large shoes to fill. Although Ernesto and his brother Mario were brought up working in the restaurant from a young age and were exposed to international cuisines and fine dining as children, it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication from Ernesto to prove to his father that he could maintain the restaurant’s standards as head chef. Taking inspiration from his travels in Europe and Japan, Ernesto is gradually carving his own future at Don Alfonso 1890, introducing new flavours and techniques, although all under the watchful – and probably very proud – eyes of the great man himself.

Building on greatness

Enrico and Roberto Cerea likewise faced the challenge of inheriting the eponymous restaurant of their father, Vittorio, but luckily have had the time and support of their family to take Da Vittorio to the next level.

Very much a family affair from start to finish, Da Vittorio was founded in 1966 as a small fish restaurant in the city of Bergamo. Growing steadily in success and reputation, Vittorio received a first Michelin star in 1978 and a second in 1996, showing the true grit and determination of Vittorio and his wife Bruna in persevering with their plans.

Both Enrico and Roberto credit the initial principles of discipline and professionalism that their father instilled in them in being crucial to their success, and after working and training abroad for several years, the pair returned to the family restaurant and soon took the reigns of the kitchen from their father. With the support of Bruna and their other siblings, Da Vittorio was awarded a third star in 2010 and is now seen as the most successful restaurant in the region, yet still with a focus on fish and seafood that credits the original vision of their father.

Inspiring passion

Although striking out on his own with his own string of Michelin-starred restaurants, Igles Corelli still credits the memories of cooking and sharing food with his father as a driving inspiration for his culinary success.

Igles’ parents ran a small trattoria and provided Igles with an environment in which to grow up with a love of food and respect for ingredients. A simple memory, but competing with his father to get the crunchiest edges of a lasagne inspired one of the most renowned, and most nostalgic, dishes on Igles’ restaurant menu.

‘My father’ (a crunchy, baked version of a lasagne) is the resultant recipe and also shows how the chef’s creativity and inventiveness have helped him build on these humble beginnings – taking the concept of what many people would see as the most desirable part of the dish and twisting it with modern techniques into a dish of balanced texture, flavour, and fun.

Luca and Antonio Abbruzzino are another father-son culinary duo that have taken Italy by storm since they started to work together. Based in Calabria, father Antonio has classical, technical skills that would put most chefs to shame, while Luca embraces the flavours and ingredients found all over the world to bring traditional dishes into the twenty-first century.

The collaboration between father and son is the reason why their eponymous restaurant holds a Michelin star, but that doesn't mean they see things differently. ‘We have two very different tastes and cooking styles, but our love for local quality ingredients is always what brings us together,’ says Antonio. ‘Luca is an exceptional cook who looks at Calabrian cuisine in a modern way. I just like to remind him of the importance of tradition. Most of the time, innovation is pointless without respecting the past.’

‘I prefer seafood, while my father prefers traditional pasta dishes,’ adds Luca. ‘For example, one of our dishes originally started as a light broth with clams, fennel and potatoes. My father said it was nice but lacked substance. We argued for many weeks until I came into the kitchen one morning and my father had plated the dish but as a primo with a tortello in. We sat down and ate it together and I knew he was right. But I don’t like to say it too much!’

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