Pino Cuttaia

Pino Cuttaia

Pino Cuttaia

As a die hard Sicilian through and through, Pino Cuttaia’s cooking is a celebration of everything good about the island’s food. His personal interpretation of the region’s famous dishes has made his restaurant La Madia a bastion of Sicilian cuisine.

If you ask Pino Cuttaia where he is from, he will never say Italy. He is a fiercely proud Sicilian, who was born in Licata on the southwest coast of the island. However, he moved with his family to Piedmont in the north of the country when he was just twelve; something that might make a lot of people forget their roots entirely. But while Pino embraced the lifestyle and culture of northern Italy quite quickly, he always believed that one day he would return to his beloved southern island.

After studying in Turin, Pino found a job at an Olivetti factory which made typewriters and fax machines; something he found incredibly boring and depressing. His only creative outlet was at the weekends, when he would spend his whole time in the kitchen playing around with ingredients and creating original dishes. ‘In the factory I was just a number like everyone else, but in the kitchen I felt more like an individual person,’ he explains. ‘One morning I was standing in front of an onion and realised I could choose to cut it in any way I wanted to. It made me feel free, and that freedom was my calling.’

Eventually, Pino’s time in the kitchen turned him into a very capable self-taught chef, and in the 1990s he left his job at the factory to pursue his dream. His talent landed him positions in two of Piedmont’s Michelin-starred restaurants – Luisa Vallazza’s Al Sorriso and Il Patio in Pollone, with chef Sergio Vineis. This was where he picked up the skills necessary to work in a professional kitchen, and realised his time at the factory had instilled a disciplined, consistent work ethic. But amongst all the Alba truffles, Barolo wine and other flavours of northern Italy, Pino pined for the ingredients found in the south. Every year he would return to Sicily with his wife Loredana to go on holiday, and their love for the region increased after every visit. In 2000, when they were getting ready to return to Piedmont after a particularly memorable time, Loredana broke down in tears. Pino decided there and then to relocate to Sicily and attempt to set up his own project on the island.

Pino had always dreamt of combining the techniques he’d learnt in Piedmont with the fantastic ingredients of Sicily, believing it would suit his original approach to food perfectly. Soon after arriving in Licata he began working with Nino Graziano, a Sicilian chef renowned for preserving and spreading awareness of the region’s traditional dishes. Pino regarded Nino as a visionary, and with his help discovered how to implement the classic spices, herbs and flavours of Sicily into Michelin-starred cuisine. At the end of 2000, less than a year after he left Piedmont, Pino opened his first restaurant, La Madia.

Six years later, the restaurant received its first Michelin star and in 2009 gained a second. This was thanks to Pino’s ability to take classic Sicilian dishes such as arancini, couscous and cannoli and transform them into something truly unique. He comes up with new dishes by focusing on a simple idea, applying his expert culinary technique and then unleashing his artistic, creative side to present them in vibrant, impeccable ways. Just by looking at dishes like his ‘Anchovy painting’, Cloud of Caprese or Squid and tinniruma ravioli with anchovy sauce, you can tell his mind is full of ideas, images and different ways of thinking. ‘I never watch cookery programmes on television because I don’t want my style to be influenced or contaminated in any way,’ he says. ‘There are other dishes which I can see are genius, but I’ve never felt envious of the chef who’s created them.’

Pino believes Licata is the only place in the world where he can cook exactly the way he wants to. Judging by how the locals and international critics rave about his food, it looks like he’ll be a popular figure there for many years to come.