We always talk about Sicilian food and recipes but today I am particularly glad to post this interview to a young Sicilian Chef who, because of his profession, is entitled to speak about this topic more than me: Giuseppe Di Cristina. (Qui la versione in Italiano).
Me: Hi chef, let’s start with a brief introduction about your work and background.
Chef: First of all thanks for this interview. I am honoured to answer your questions. I started to work at 14 years old at the restaurant Villa Flora (Palermo) while I was attending the 1st year of Catering school. From there I moved to several places trying to learn like a sponge the different types of catering and food service, both in Sicily (Mondello, Cinisi, Caltagirone, Campofelice di Roccella, Marsala and Palermo again) and in other parts of Italy (Pavia, Borgomanero (No), Courmayeur (Ao).
At 25 I became sous-chef working at La Nave and after 5 years I realised I was ready for the big jump: be in charge of a kitchen on my own! So in 2010 I started this new experience at the restaurant Torre Battilamano in Termini Imerese (Pa), then on the Alps in Cervinia (Ao) and back to Sicily at the Four Seasons in Lascari near Cefalù. Only recently I decided to become a freelance, working on my own, organising courses and teaching in professional schools.
When did you realise you wanted to become a professional Chef?
When I was a kid, smelling the parfumes coming from the kitchen when my mum and grandma were cooking.
Which is your favourite Sicilian dish and why?
Being not only a chef, but also a scuba diver, I would say by all means the swordfish rolls, with red orange, raisins and pine nuts. I have always thought that this recipe is the great union between sea and land, which expresses the deep bond of Sicilians with the two resources of our island.
In your experience how do other people perceive our cuisine? Which is the most requested dish?
Sicilian cuisine is very well appreciated. There are no other regions that can boast our triumph of colors, parfums, smells and flavors in every single month of the year. The dishes that people ask the most, especially from my experience working in the Alps near the French border are two: the Sicilian Cassata and the Caponata.
What inspires you when you decide to create a new recipe?
Great question! Actually it depends on the occasion. I usually focus on the topic: if the dish is for a restaurant or for a particular party, or for a contest for example. In any case I decide the main ingredient and I start to examine in my mind every possible technique of cooking it and also if matches with other ingredients.
From there I try and experiment with different colors and parfumes. Palate and brain become like lovers just like when a painter starts creating on his canvas. I have to say that 8 times out of 10 the final result is exactly like I had imagined it. Recently what inspires me the most is the woman of my life that is like a real Muse to me. Nowadays, when I create a dish, I do it thinking about her.
Can you name two Sicilian Chefs you appreciate? A senior and a junior one?
The senior is Pino Cuttaia, the most talented I have ever known, especially because has humility, a virtue which you don’t see often. The junior that I appreciate is Roberto Pennino. He is one of the ‘Maestri Pasticceri‘ of the entire island and is not even 30 yet. He is also great at carving vegetables.
Meat or fish? Fruits or desserts? White or red wine?
Sea is definetely my element so I have to say FISH! I love desserts, especially soft creamy ones, while for the wine I prefer the red one.
Which is your favorite street food?
Panelle of course!!! In Palermo they are loved by kids and grown ups of every age. Plus… that lovely soft bread we eat them with… just amazing.
What do you think about the big success of culinary tv shows or reality?
I think they could be created better. Our category has obviously gained a lot of visibility, but in some cases there are people who talk about cooking without having a proper knowledge or understanding of it.
If you would like to celebrate an event and not cooking, where would you go?
In the province of Palermo I would go to three places: Il Ghiottone Raffinato, il Cafè 113 in Casteldaccia and Il Normanno in Cefalù.
Which is the worse stereotype about Sicilian Cuisine?
That we don’t have a tradition of meat dishes. This is totally wrong. In ancient times the tables of aristocrats were always full of game like rabbits, hares, wild boars, quails, partridges, ecc… not bad for an island, eh?!
Is there a foreign cuisine you particularly appreciate and why?
Yes, it’s the Austrian one, for its magnificence especially in Patisserie.
Which is your next project?
In October I will start again with the cookery courses at DiCristina’s, my company. I love sharing my knowledge with people that are not professionals but have passion for food and cooking.
GREAT! Thanks a lot for your time and answers, Chef! 🙂
Please let me thank you for having contacted me and given me the honour of this interview on your blog. Thank you so much.
Chef Giuseppe Di Cristina