Salvatore Elefante

Salvatore Elefante

Salvatore Elefante

With a menu dictated by what fish has been caught that morning, Salvatore Elefante’s style of cooking is spontaneous, simple and based on the flavours of his childhood. Being based on the island of Capri means some of the best seafood in Europe is brought to shore right on his doorstep.

Being born in Gragnano, Naples – the land of pasta – meant Salvatore Elefante was surrounded by food from a very young age. But his love of cooking didn’t start in the kitchen. ‘We were always bored when we were young, so we went out to catch and cook fish,’ he explains. He quickly picked up the skills needed to prepare seafood for professional kitchens, and from age twelve he was already working in restaurants during the school holidays, cleaning fish for the chefs.

The thrill of fast-paced, professional service certainly cured his childhood boredom, and he went on to study at a Naples catering college to hone his skills. When he turned eighteen, he gained some experience in local restaurants, cooking traditional Napolitan cuisine and making the most of the fresh fish he’d grown up working with. It wasn’t until 2006 that a rare opportunity to work on Capri, an island just off Naples’ coast, gave him the chance to cook with some of the best seafood in Europe.

Jobs on Capri are hard to come by. They’re highly coveted, as chefs know working on the island means they’ll have access to beautiful fish and seafood, the biggest, juiciest lemons in the whole of Italy and all sorts of produce grown just ten kilometres from their restaurants. Salvatore credits the move as a huge milestone for his career, and instantly fell in love with the island. He immediately decided to make Capri his home, and started gaining a good reputation with the locals thanks to his commitment to using the best ingredients he could find in his dishes.

Word of Salvatore’s talent spread, and in 2008 he was invited to work at Il Riccio, a restaurant on Capri’s west coast with legendary chef Andrea Migliaccio. Tonino Cacace, the owner of the restaurant, was always encouraging him to explore his own style of cooking, and when Andrea moved on, he made Salvatore head chef in 2014.

Nowadays, Salvatore’s signature style is present throughout the menu, which changes daily. ‘My cuisine is spontaneous yet simple,’ he tells us. ‘I take whatever fish has been caught that day and combine it with the flavours I adored as a child.’ Guests are welcomed into the restaurant with a huge display of fresh seafood and invited to choose which they’d like to eat. The kitchen then cooks it for them, adding a few other ingredients from the island, before it’s brought to the table. His Tagliolini with tuna, aubergine cream and burrata is a firm favourite, as are his Fish skewers with vegetable caponata and gazpacho and Caprese ravioli dishes.

Healthy, light and full of flavour – these are the three ways most people would describe Salvatore’s cooking. But while the freshness and quality of the fish he uses is incredibly important, it’s his ability to recreate experiences and flavours from his childhood that really make him stand out as a chef. Every plate he sends out of the kitchen is vibrant and bursting with colour, paying homage to the traditional food he enjoyed when he was younger.

Fish may be why most people make the trip to Il Riccio, but another reason the restaurant has made a name for itself is its Room of Temptation – where guests go to decide what they want for dessert. It’s full of art, sculptures and (most importantly) all sorts of Napolitan and Caprese cakes, sweets and tarts to choose from. ‘I particularly love the Sfogliatelle (a shell-shaped sweet Italian pastry),’ says Salvatore. ‘It reminds me of my childhood and all the good times we had.’

When he’s not at Il Riccio, Salvatore is often in Austria and Croatia, helping other restaurants develop their menus. In his free time, he likes to visit the Maldives with his family, but when the weather’s warm, he loves nothing more than to go swimming in the sea – just like he did when he was a child.