Pasquale Torrente


Pasquale Torrente

In Cetara, the village he grew up in, Pasquale Torrente creates simple dishes that champion the flavours of the Amalfi Coast – with anchovies and his beloved colatura sauce at their core.

Naples has its pizza; Sorrento has its lemons and all of Campania has its beautiful buffalo mozzarella. But Cetara, an unassuming fishing village on the Amalfi Coast, is home to something just as important – the world’s best anchovies. And championing them like no one else is chef Pasquale Torrente, who puts them front and centre in the dishes at his restaurant Al Convento.

Pasquale’s first taste of hospitality is when his parents opened Al Convento in 1969, with his father using his experience cooking in the navy to run the kitchen. ‘My mother and father eventually added a rosticceria and then a pizzeria to Al Convento, both of which were incredibly popular,’ he says. ‘At one point they were serving up to 200 people a day and making croissants and zeppole for people all over the country – and all without a dishwasher!’

Despite growing up around the trattoria and picking up lessons from his parents, it wasn’t until Pasquale was in his twenties that he started to see cooking as a serious career. ‘My parents put me in charge of the rosticceria when it opened, and I remember my clothes always smelling of fried food,’ he says. ‘The food scene was changing at that time, and that sort of fast food was falling out of fashion, so we decided to make Al Convento a more serious, refined restaurant and I took it over in the late 1980s.’

This was to be the beginning of Pasquale’s rise to fame. He set out a goal to put Al Convento – and the entire village of Cetara – on Italy’s culinary map. Being based on the Amalfi Coast meant there were plenty of visitors to the area, but with Amalfi to the west and Salerno to the east, Cetara was sometimes overlooked. Rather than chasing Michelin stars or trying something experimental, Pasquale decided to focus on what he knew best – the incredible produce of Campania, in particular the fish and seafood landed on his doorstep daily.

‘Cetara has a beautiful community of producers and I wanted to celebrate them, so we started cooking traditional recipes with local ingredients. The best anchovies in the world come from here – they’re so incredibly fresh and the Mediterranean is the perfect environment for them to flourish. Fishermen go out in the morning and bring them back before lunch to sell to restaurants and the locals, and they’re prized for their beautifully salty flavour.’

It was these anchovies in particular which made chefs and food writers across Italy sit up and take notice. Pasquale began designing entire menus around anchovies, serving them in all sorts of different ways. Fried, raw, in pasta, stuffed, pickled – he has managed to find every possible way of making an anchovy taste delicious and put it on the menu at Al Convento.

That’s not to say Cetara wasn’t known for its food at all before Al Convento, however. It is home to an ancient type of fish sauce called Colatura di Alici, which is similar to the Ancient Roman sauce garum. This intense amber liquid is made from fermenting anchovies in brine and collecting the liquid that’s drawn from the fish. This is then filtered and bottled, and has become an icon of Campanian cuisine in recent years. It also happens to be one of Pasquale’s favourite products to cook with. ‘I love colatura because it is such an ancient product which I feel particularly close to,’ he explains. ‘It is part of our heritage and the traditional way it is made has to be protected. The flavour is so intense, and invokes memories of my childhood and hometown. There are so many ways it can be used, and it’s so easy to add to dishes. Everywhere I go and in all my restaurants I make sure there is some colatura to hand.’

Over the years, Al Convento became a must-visit for any food-lover visiting the Amalfi Coast. But a trip to London in 2005 struck Pasquale with a new idea; why not utilise his experience running a rosticceria to add yet another reason to visit Cetara?

‘When I was in London I saw a huge queue outside a fish and chip shop. I bought some for a crazy amount of money and it wasn’t appetising at all. I thought, ‘if they can sell this stuff here, then I can do it too in Italy, but with quality ingredients – after all, I come from the homeland of street food’. That’s when I decided to open La Cuopperia del Convento in Cetara, a restaurant that specialises in fried food, even though at the time the word ‘fried’ was thought of as heavy and unhealthy. But it worked.’

Now with two incredibly successful restaurants under his belt – plus further outposts across the world in partnership with Eataly – Pasquale has cemented his reputation for serving incredibly tasty yet unassuming food, simply by sourcing incredible local ingredients. ‘Today, in my fifties, I believe I have completed everything I set out to do,’ he says. ‘I have accomplished my dreams.’ And that’s something all chefs want to achieve.