By Leslie Fernandez
Q1. Before we begin, I would like to thank you for your time. Please, tell us something about your early life and what interested to pursue culinary as your career?
I was Born in Putignano, Puglia. My passion for food started during my childhood when I watched my mother prepare simple food, full of love. At the age of 14, I started my training in a catering school in Castellana Grotte, to learn the techniques and basics of the local dishes, while working in local restaurants and pizzerias in Puglia in the Summer.
I left Italy for Germany at the age of 20 and later to England to explore other cultures and cuisines.
My career started at the Stafford Hotel then moving on to open the Regent Four Seasons Hotel. I also worked with Chef Paolo Simeoni to open the restaurant ‘The Dining Room’ which gained national recognition for its creative Italian cooking style. Three years later, I reopened Toto’s Restaurant, a celebrated fine dining restaurant in Knightsbridge.
In May 1996, my career took me to Asia, where I learned a lot about spices, aromas, and oriental cooking techniques in Malaysia. In 1997, I was brought back to Italy by the famous Italian chef Anthony Genovese to open a hotel on the charming Amalfi Coast, this is when I fell in love with the Mediterranean aromas and the natural products that today became part of my style of cooking. During the winter of 1998, I went to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saison, Oxford, entering into the world of Raymond Blanc, as Sous Chef.
In January 2001, I returned to Italy to take the role of Executive Chef of Rossellinis, Palazzo Sasso. This was a major turning point in my career as I was then recognized as “One of the Best Chefs in the World” by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences and Rossellinis being awarded One Star Michelin. In 2004, Rossellinis was awarded the Second Michelin Star.
In April 2013, I was appointed as Head Chef at restaurant Tosca, The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.
I have joined the unrivaled dining destination, Al Messila, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Doha direct from The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, where I was Director of Tosca restaurant, as I lead it into the Michelin star realm.
I’m also a cookbook author having collaborated with some of the world’s most celebrated hotels and restaurants across Europe and Asia. Throughout my career, I have been praised for my devotion to natural produce.
Q2. Since you are not from Qatar, how challenging it was for you to adapt to a new culture? Was it tough to acclimate or everything was easy?
Qatar is a multi-cultural society with people, languages, and cuisines from across the globe. For this reason, it has been very easy for me to adapt to this new environment when I moved. Qatar is a country of warmth and hospitality.
Doha was chosen in 2010 to be the Arab Capital of Culture, and ever since the state has organized a myriad of initiatives including the Years of Culture, pairing with a different country in each edition.
Despite its openness to cultural diversity, Qatar remains keen to preserve and promote its national identity in various events.
This is where the unique melting pot comes beautifully together in this part of the world.
Qatar’s National Vision 2030 also reiterates cultural diversity as part of the roadmap for sustainable development.
Q3. Celebrity chefs like you indeed have a lot of external pressure. Please tell us, how do you deal with it and does that ever impact your culinary?
After many years, dealing with pressure became part of my daily tasks. I am now used to such scenarios. I make sure that after such intense moments I disconnect from work, reconnect with my family and refocus.
Q4. You were in the Hell’s Kitchen with Carlo Cracco, one of the most famous Italian chefs. Please, share your experience. Any culinary tips/tricks that you learned from this experience?
This experience was extremely funny, and the strong friendship I shared with Carlo made it even more special. My task was to bring to the competition produce from the future. I brought the plankton. It was very interesting to see how junior chefs handled such a complex ingredient!
Q5. Being the winner of Michelin Star three times, I am sure the expectations with your culinary prowess must be high. How do you manage to perform well each time and what tips you want to share with aspiring chefs?
I strongly believe that talent gives you the ability to manage both emotions and creativity. On the other hand, the talent must be constantly trained and challenged, and the creativity renewed.
Q6. Deli Kitchen, Veritas, and Chef in the Villa are three of your special projects at Al Messila, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa. Please, enlighten us with the journey of these three dining offerings.
I have brought my extensive expertise to Al Messila’s innovative culinary portfolio.
My hands-on focus is evident in the casual Deli Kitchen designed to be the preferred destination for discerning guests who want to dine and treasure countless moments of discovery and exploration under the same roof.
Deli Kitchen marks my first foray into the Middle East and features matchless sustainability, responsibility, and sharing that converge in a new approach to agricultural and healthy product dining, shopping, and learning.
Q7. As you know, the More Cravings by Marriott Bonvoy™ Doha Food Fest is in full swing this month. How excited are you to cater to guests again after such a long period due to COVID-19?
I am excited to witness the recovery of the industry and to participate in such a dynamic event featuring a selection of world-class chefs. The Doha Food Fest will be the perfect platform for food lovers of all ages to sample a variety of restaurants and cuisines at affordable prices.
Throughout October, Doha will witness a host of exciting culinary experiences across an array of Qatar’s top end hotels, and a selection of world-class restaurants. Guests will experience specially curated menus, exclusive dining and tasting experiences, and cooking classes amongst others.
Q8. Please share details about the special culinary cooking experience that you have planned for the Doha Food Fest in the Food Lab, the special Italian menu that you have created for Veritas, and the set menu for Deli Kitchen during the Fest.
I will be hosting an exclusive cooking class on 13 October followed by a five-course dinner in the Food Lab.
Attendees will get the opportunity to get behind the stoves and learn all the tricks from me during the unique cooking class. Participants will cook first, and then enjoy their creations during a 5-course dinner. The session is reserved for 8 people only.
Moreover, guests can enjoy a truly Italian menu at our celebrated restaurant, Veritas. An authentic Michelin-starred experience, boasting a selection of refined classic Italian dishes, presented in a very modern and elegant way. The sophisticated interiors and décor will create the perfect surroundings for an exquisite evening.
Deli Kitchen will offer a selection of its best sellers, an interesting melting pot of flavors, from East to West, passing by the Middle East.
Q9. What do you feel is the future of culinary in Doha? Is Doha on its way to become the hub of culture, food, and art in the upcoming years?
The Doha Food Fest places Doha’s strong gastronomic offering under the spotlight. Qatar is well positioned today to become a culinary hub in the region, with Marriott International’s extensive food and beverage offerings have opened more than 65 restaurants already in Doha.
Combining modernity and tradition, Doha offers a rich and diverse culinary scene with a myriad of choices, including Michelin-starred restaurants and popular street food, catering to all needs and tastes.
The Doha Food Fest is the ideal platform to showcase Doha’s fusion of Arabic and multicultural cuisine, and introduce the masterminds behind the country’s leading venues.
Q10. Lastly, please, share with us one secret tip that goes into every recipe that you create and makes it exceptionally delicious?
Being a chef, I am always enthralled by new dishes and tastes. However, the secret ingredient is always the passion. Dose with care!