Ilario Vinciguerra


Ilario Vinciguerra

After cooking in Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, Ilario Vinciguerra returned to Italy in 2011 to open his eponymous restaurant in Lombardy. His food is a unique expression of his inimitable cooking style, which combines both traditional and modern interpretations of iconic Mediterranean ingredients.

At first, it wasn’t a love of food that drove Ilario Vinciguerra to become a chef. After initial plans to become a policeman were scuppered by his mother, he turned to his passion of travelling and thought about how he could make a career out of it. ‘I started as a hotel manager, then realised I could communicate with food and decided to move into the kitchen.’

Unlike many Italian chefs, he didn’t come from a family involved in restaurants – instead, they owned a fruit shop in Naples. While this meant he always had real, home-cooked meals growing up in the 1970s and 1980s (‘there was never bad food like ketchup or mayonnaise on the table’), it wasn’t until he graduated from hospitality school in 1994 and travelled around Europe that he began to truly appreciate fine food and drink.

Stints in legendary restaurants such as La Reserve de Beaulieu in France, Louis XV in Monte Carlo and Don Alfonso 1890 in Italy all helped to shape Ilario’s style, but every place he worked in the twenty years following his graduation had an effect on the way he cooks. ‘Many chefs have given me something,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t inspired by them exactly; instead, I took the techniques taught to me and put them all together, creating something new. Working at Don Alfonso was particularly important to me, but travelling to places like France and Japan also had a profound effect.’

It wasn’t until 2011, when Ilario was thirty-six, that he opened his own restaurant. Set in an incredible Italian Art Nouveau villa in the heart of Gallarate (a small city in Varese, Lombardy), Ristorante Ilario Vinciguerra is a small, thirty-five cover restaurant across two floors. But while the restaurant itself is stunning to look at, it’s the food Ilario serves day after day that attracts diners from far and wide – and the reason it was awarded a Michelin star between 2014 and 2018.

It’s clear from Ilario’s dishes that he prizes ingredients above all else, with many of his recipes appearing simple and straightforward. His Pasta, potatoes and mussels, for example, contains just that – with the finest quality tomatoes, lemon zest, thyme and garlic the only additional aromatics. It’s the way Ilario cooks these ingredients, however, and the thought processes behind each dish, that make them award-winning. ‘I am never precise when I cook,’ he says. ‘There’s no specific product list because I use everything – be that local produce, something from abroad or ever food from the supermarket. It’s true that when you grow up in a particular place you can cook the local food, but when you have a lot of experience from all over the world, you can take influences from Asia, Mexico – anywhere. The key is to marry it all together.’

Ilario’s food is certainly unique and quite hard to define, but it is certainly Mediterranean in nature (he always uses olive oil instead of butter or cream) and makes the most of modern, innovative cooking techniques. He is particularly passionate about his three ‘Ps’ – pane, pasta e pasticceria (bread, pasta and pastries) – which are all made from scratch in-house.

Food might be his first passion, but Ilario also has a soft spot for grappa, Italy’s grape-based brandy. He has the largest grappa ‘library’ in Italy, and is a particular fan of Grappa Romano Levi. ‘I started collecting bottles of grappa for fun, but it soon became a passion,’ he says. ‘Every bottle has a story behind it. For instance, Romani Levi is an extraordinary product, made in the traditional way. The grape musts were originally dried by hand using an open fire.’