Chef Francesco, born in 1973, has already made a name for himself in Milan, where he became famous at a young age for his unexpected novice performances. Among his previous experiences are Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, Grand Hotel in Rimini and Harry’s Bar in London. Today, he displays his full stylistic maturity as in Portovenere, at the panoramic Palmaria Restaurant.
Here is a translation of the exchange between correspondent Désirée Paola Capozzo and Chef Francesco Parravicini.
When and how did your cooking passion start?
When I was little, I used to help my mother in making fresh-pasta cappelletti: my fingers were so tiny that I could make and close really small cappelletti, an advantage that my mom did not have with her larger fingers… that’s how I started spending time in the kitchen and falling in love with that world. The funny thing, though, is that the final inspiration came from the TV. When I was about 10 years old in the early 1980’s, I watched a sitcom called “Three’s Company”… and I was inspired by Jack Tripper, who was an aspiring chef. To me, the idea was very intriguing and attractive, and here I am today!
Your favorite dish, as a child and as a chef?
As a child, the tortelli di zucca (pumpkin-stuffed pasta) was undoubtedly my favorite dish, but they were prepared with tomatoes and a generous handful of parmigiano (not with the usual butter and sage seasoning). As a chef, I really enjoy a proper risotto, but only if prepared well. Even the simplest risotto alla parmigiana can be a work of art if it is balanced in the correct way.
Which ingredient do you love cooking? And which is your least favorite?
I really like legumes and cereals that I love cooking in soups and broths: chickpeas, beans, lentils, barley, spelt, millet, and others that I combine with fresh vegetables like carrots, potatoes and shallot and – above all – extra virgin olive oil from the Gulf of Poets. If possible, I try not to use crustaceans that “must” be used alive, such as lobsters… I always feel guilty!
The first mistake in the kitchen?
Presumption! If it’s about technical mistakes, then there are many. The first – maybe the most common mistake – is putting too much salt in a dish. It’s important to be careful: the first rule is never to exaggerate with salt, you always have time to add some more later, but if you exceed, then you are screwed!
Your cooking philosophy is…
Semplicity, balance and substance. I really take care of the presentation of a dish, but I never let this be more important than taste. I never put too many elements in the same dish, I prefer sober combinations that avoid a garish result.
Your “maestro” in the kitchen?
I have to thank Chef Claudio di Bernardo, current Executive Chef at Grand Hotel in Rimini, because he taught me above all dedication to work and method. From him I learned that the finished plate is the ultimate result of a big commitment, of deep passion and of numerous efforts aimed at always delivering the top. He was and is both a teacher and a friend.
The chef with whom you would like a four-hand cooking experience?
How did you conceive and prepare the menu for Palmaria Restaurant in Portovenere?
Addressing the mainly foreign clientèle, I thought of proposing some dishes of the Italian tradition that had something to do with the regions that ‘embrace’ Portovenere, therefore Liguria, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. This meant that the menu would include handmade trofie pasta with pesto sauce; chianina-ragout tagliatelle and sea soup. But I also alternate less territorial, innovative proposals like shellfish and crustaceans served in their own bubble, or egg pasta with sea cicadas. The pastry making is also quite unique, proposing rustic desserts like the sbrisolona and the cheesecake in a revisited guise.