Ciccio Sultano

Ciccio Sultano

Ciccio Sultano

One of Sicily’s best-loved chefs, Ciccio Sultano has travelled as far as New York to hone his craft. Now back home, Ciccio’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant Duomo is the standard bearer for Sicilian haute cuisine, attracting diners from far and wide to the city of Ragusa.

As a young boy growing up in a gastronomic treasure trove like Sicily, it’s hardly surprising that Ciccio Sultano was inspired by food from an early age. The island is a melting pot of complex Arabic and Mediterranean influences, but for Ciccio, it was a simple pleasure that sparks his earliest food memories. ‘My first memory of food was lemon granita and bread – we used to eat that for breakfast,’ he says. ‘The sweet and sour flavour of lemons are always in my thoughts.’

Ciccio was thirteen and a half when he took a job at the Pasticceria Suite di Vittoria – a pastry shop just west of Ragusa, towards the coast. ‘I did everything in that place,’ he says, ‘from making cocktails to serving hot dishes. Everyone used to call me Ciccio Suite!’

All in all, Ciccio spent seven years at Pasticceria Suite di Vittoria before he felt the force of his own ambition, pulling him onto something new. ‘I started working in a spaghetteria in Marina di Ragusa (a small village on the south coast),’ he says. ‘Shortly after I started, the restaurant became a huge success. I wasn’t doing anything special, I was just doing things the same way they had been doing them before, but we became the hit of the town very quickly.’

It had become clear that Ciccio had found something he loved, and moreover, something he had natural talent for. As his abilities grew, so did his thirst for new knowledge. ‘I was never satisfied,’ he says. ‘I always wanted to achieve more. At seventeen I started buying magazines like Grand Gourmet, to read about chefs like Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel and Alain Ducasse. I documented all the recipes and taught myself new techniques.

‘I wanted to begin to explore the quality of ingredients, and start working with the farmers,’ Ciccio continues. ‘One day, the managers of the spaghetteria tried to convince me that using the very best ingredients all the time wasn’t feasible for business. ‘You’ll understand when you have your own place,’ they said. So, that was it. I left to open my own place.’

Ciccio knew he would have his own restaurant one day, but he was still hungry to improve and experience as much as he could. He spent time in Germany honing his meat cookery, then crossed the Atlantic to work with Lidia Bastianich in New York. More than anything else, time spent away from home helped Ciccio understand what it was about Sicilian cuisine that was so important to him. ‘It’s the generosity of it,’ he explains. ‘Generosity is a particular feature of Sicilians. It’s something I am very proud of, and I display that in all of my dishes – the generosity of giving myself to every plate.’

It only takes a cursory glance at Ciccio’s food to see that these dishes are unmistakably his. His playful, artistic flair is always on display, and his plates are a unique combination of his avant garde character and his love and respect for the food of his home. On returning to Sicily, Ciccio opened Ristorante Duomo in Ragusa in the year 2000, and the restaurant has displayed his pioneering Sicilian haute cuisine ever since, winning a Michelin star in 2004, then receiving a second two years later. Never one to be satisfied, Ciccio has more recently opened ‘I Banchi’ in 2015 – his modern interpretation of a traditional trattoria, which serves more traditional Sicilian fare with less formality than his two star restaurant.