We all know the familiar faces of domestic and international celebrity chefs: their faces are on out tv screens, social media outlets and covers of magazines and cookbooks. Their cooking skills are well documented in reality shows and news segments. But what of the rising stars? Can you name at least one of the many your chefs who may have a Michelin star and a James Beard award but no book or tv deal? A few weeks ago, I was moderating two great demonstrations at Identita’ Golose 2014 and one of the main topics for this year’s festival was giving a piece of the spotlight to younger chefs. I confess I didn’t know what to expect as I have always met the “big guys” with inconsistent results. Some are brilliant on tv and in person (Bobby Flay, Scott Conant, Massimo Bottura, Davide Scabin Carlo Cracco Matthew Kenney and Heston Blumenthal just to name a few), others are great in person but are surrounded by an underwhelming entourage (I’d love to tell one blonde chef on FN the silly games that her PR people play on little bloggers like me), others are very shy and reserve all their energy to the creative aspect of their job. I was curious to meet the enfants prodige and I was in for a very nice surprise indeed.
Carlo Cracco “grandfathered” Luciano Monosilio for his participation to Identita’ Golose 2014. If you haven’t heard his name before, fear not, you will, along with a wide array of young Italian chefs that are taking over the food scene in Italy and abroad with their creativity and absolute commitment to discipline and customer satisfaction. Luciano Monosilio is the head chef of a restaurant in Rome, Pipero al Rex, that is universally acclaimed as one of the most creative in the Capital and also has a Michelin star under his belt. At 30 years old, he has been called the “king of carbonara”, and if you know anything about me, you’ll recall that is one of my favorite dishes. So, after the fun and refreshing demonstration at Identita’ Golose 2014, where he cooked a Tripe and Mussels dish with Savory Meringue, I had to sit down with Chef Monosilio for an interview.
L25: Chef Monosilio your demo was very fun and everybody seemed to be having a great time. You really breathed new life into an ingredient like tripe that people tend to overlook and consider something more “cheffy”. This was really a great meal! But let’s start this interview by asking you about your mentors. You worked with people like Uliassi, Crippa and Pierangelini, three very accomplished Italian chefs. On TV nowadays you see chefs with very different styles, some of them yell and scream at their team and they don’t necessarily give an example of leadership. I would like to know what is your style and how you were influenced by your mentors.
LM: The style of my mentors was completely different: they different in their way of leading and managing a kitchen. From the very classic and secretive “french approach” to the kitchen with Pierangelini, I moved to Uliassi who had a very large staff who really functioned as a family, with a great respect for each other and the value of a human being. Finally, I worked with Crippa who has a great team but a very quiet kitchen. This experience was great under that respect: I was used to somewhat chaotic kitchens, and I entered into a place where there was silence and tranquility. Not a word out of place, no screaming. Kitchens can be quite hectic because cooking is a noisy activity, so this was a breath of fresh air. And Crippa’s leadership is innate, it’s because he knows what he is doing and he is teaching you with the utmost respect: he gives you a responsibility and he knows you, as a cook, can handle it every day. It’s the best way to delegate and manage everybody’s work.
L25: We hear you are the “King of Carbonara”…
LM:… yes so I have heard…
L25: Well, we tend to believe it, having seen what you can to tripe…
LM: Alessandro [Pipero] and I try to rediscover dishes that are sometimes forgotten.
L25: Italian food is often considered very traditional and with predetermined standards and rules. How do you break the rules of Italian culinary traditions?
LM: You can break the rules only after you have studied them. Studying, being disciplined about what you do, these are the only ways to break the rules of food.
L25: That is a great answer. People always think about creativity as a way to break the rules, so it is really refreshing to hear someone as accomplished as you are saying that you have to learn and study first.
LM: It’s like Picasso saying that the real artists can also forget the rules: they can always paint a self portrait, they know the techniques, proportions, etc. Then one day they can invent something that is apparently completely backwards, like cubism: to invert the rules you need to have studied and have a solid base upon which you work.
L25: So, first you learned the rules on carbonara to become the king!
LM: Indeed. You say that people talk about creativity in the kitchen. Well creativity lasts the for the time that you think and conceptualize a dish. When that step is over, the following step is the day-to-day. Everyday you go through the same motions to create what used to be a creative moment, and every day you have to do things well. You need continuity and the achieve continuity you need determination.
L25: You have spent some time in South Africa working in the several restaurants. How did this influence your food and work as a chef?
LM: From South Africa, I brought back several technical aspects and the method. It’s a different Country so I had to confront a different method with a chef who had a very large staff. We were more than 50 people and I was very young. I started from the bottom and I ended up managing the whole kitchen.
L25: Lastly we want to know the first thing you ate when you landed in New York.
LM: I don’t even know the name of the restaurant but I had a great lamb dish. It was delicious…. but it’s my first time in New York so next time I’ll be able to tell you more.
Grazie Chef Monosilio!