Mauro Uliassi

Mauro Uliassi

By transforming his small beachside café into one of Italy’s top twenty restaurants, Mauro Uliassi has received three Michelin stars and won huge amounts of respect from his peers. His ability to recreate the smells and scents of his life and turn them into incredible dishes has resulted in a sensory eating experience like no other.

Senigallia is a small beach resort in Marche on the east coast of Italy famous for its stretch of golden sands. But nestled amongst the hotels and beach huts is a three-Michelin-starred Mecca for seafood lovers, run by Mauro Uliassi, one of the country’s best chefs. He has lived and worked in the town nearly all his life, taking the unassuming restaurant he opened in 1990 and slowly turning it into the bastion of cuisine it is today.

Mauro’s parents owned a bar when he was growing up, and one of his first memories is one of the waiters saying hello and putting their hand on his face. It smelt strongly of Parmesan, and while Mauro didn’t like it at the time, he realised how significant smell was when it came to food. When he was seventeen he got his first weekend job in a kitchen and studied at an all-boys technical college during the day. However, being a teenager, he found the lack of girls too much to bear, and after a few weeks decided to study catering instead.

When Mauro left school he worked all over Italy at high-end, fine dining restaurants, but didn’t enjoy the highly stressful working environment. He returned home and began teaching at the local culinary college and thought he had found his calling. This all changed in 1983 when he fell in love with his wife Chantal, who asked him to cook at a party for her friends: ‘I cooked with the greatest passion, like in the movie Babette’s Feast,’ he tells us. ‘For the first time I discovered how wonderful it was to see the pleasure and happiness of others from something I had created.’

From that moment on, Mauro was committed to becoming the best chef he could possibly be, and in 1990 opened a beach hut bar called Uliassi with his sister Catia, who ran front of house. His first menus were comprised of small, simple seafood dishes which were popular with tourists, but he constantly improved his cooking over the next ten years. As he and his dishes evolved, the critics started to take notice, and in 2000 he won his first Michelin star. In 2009, Mauro received his second and found himself at the helm of one of Italy’s top twenty restaurants. In 2018, he received his third Michelin star, securing his status as a world-class chef.

Nowadays, Mauro’s cooking is incredibly sophisticated, but he keeps his dishes looking clean and simple. His influences come from all over the world, which he then combines with the seafood and flavours of Italy’s east coast, resulting in dishes such as Tagliatelle of cuttlefish with nori pesto and fried quinoa, Spaghetti, clams and grilled tomatoes and Molasses cookie with chocolate, caramel, coffee and liquorice. But the memories and, in particular, smells of his childhood also pay an important part. ‘My starting point for a dish is often a smell,’ explains Mauro. ‘For example, the idea for my smoked pasta with clams came from walking past the pop-up seafood grills at the beach in Rimini.’ He even closes the restaurant for two months every spring, so his team can come up with a new menu. They do this by collecting perfumes and other strong scents over the year then smelling them, before trying to recreate their essence through cookery. The results form Uliassi’s experimental ‘lab’ menu, which is served alongside Mauro’s more classical dishes.