Group Executive Chef Giuseppe Pezzella and Head Chef Francesco Torcasio of Chic Nonna talk to Emirates Man about their individual culinary journeys, redefining Italian flavours and bringing different set of expertise to the table. Read the entire conversation below.

Did you always want to be Chef and how did it all begin?

Group Executive Chef Giuseppe Pezzella: Since I was young, cooking has been part of our tradition which has greatly influenced me as I grew up. From an early age, I would be cooking alongside my family at home in our kitchen. This is where I learned the importance of gathering around the table, sharing stories, and savouring each moment together. Then, at the age of 14, I found myself in the kitchen of a small restaurant in Naples, which ignited my culinary passion.

Head Chef Francesco Torcasio: At the age of 14, I had the incredible opportunity to work in a restaurant in Calabria, Italy. The ambiance is characterised by the comforting aroma of a grandmother’s traditional cooking, and the setting involved families gathering for Sunday lunches, evoking a sense of warmth and nostalgia. Every evening, I had the privilege of sharing meals with my own family, creating a rich and familial culinary experience. Those shared moments fostered a sense of connection and belonging that greatly influenced me until today.

Talk us through your culinary background.

GP: When I was 19, I decided to embark on a new chapter and made the move to join the ranks of world-renowned restaurants helmed by Chef Emilio Desiderio, Chef Antonio Mellino, and Chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo. These mentors helped shape my career by refining my skills, which taught me a wealth of knowledge about the culinary world.

FT: With a culinary journey spanning several renowned establishments across Italy, the UK, and the United Arab Emirates, I’m fortunate enough to have acquired great skills and techniques throughout these experiences. These cosmopolitan hubs exposed me to diverse culinary traditions and techniques, enriching my understanding of global gastronomy. Looking back, the most valuable experience for me was when I joined Il Borro Tuscan Bistro in Dubai as a Senior Sous Chef in 2017. During my tenure there, I experienced significant professional growth and propelled my career forward.

What brought you to Dubai?

GP: In 2017, I joined the Vise e Roy Group at Quattro Passi, a renowned Italian restaurant in Dubai. This move was very pivotal to me as it marked my transformative transition from Italy to Dubai, bringing with me my rich Italian heritage and expertise to Dubai’s new and vibrant culinary scene.

FT: While I was in Italy, Piero Giglio, Managing Director and Co-Founder of the hospitality group Mine & Yours Group, which owns Chic Nonna, extended an invitation for me to work at Il Borro Tuscan Bistro in Dubai as a Senior Sous Chef, where I played an instrumental role in the pre-opening team. This transition has provided me with a valuable opportunity to contribute to Dubai’s bustling and internationally renowned culinary scene.

What inspires you when creating new dishes or menus?

GP: When creating new dishes, I often draw inspiration from my own personal experiences, my family, and cherished memories. These personal touches from my journey bring a sense of authenticity and spark creativity in my creations. Moreover, food is a visual medium, and aesthetics play a significant role in the culinary world. I am always inspired by art, design, and aesthetics, allowing them to guide the presentation and overall experience of each dish. Sustainability also plays a big role when conceptualising new creations. Prioritising local suppliers and seasonal produce reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation. By designing menus around what’s available regionally and during specific times of the year, we not only support local farmers and artisans but also create dishes that resonate with the essence of the season.

FT: Understanding our customers’ preferences and incorporating their feedback into our menu development process is important, as it helps us create an experience that caters to the tastes and expectations of our discerning guests. Infusing a narrative or storytelling element into each dish can also add depth and interest. By drawing inspiration from cultural stories, personal anecdotes, or historical events, we can infuse our dishes with more meaning and connect on a personal level.

How would you describe your culinary style and approach to cooking?

GP: The evolution from traditional to modern dishes is intricately tied to the overarching concept of the restaurant. In the realm of Italian cuisine, particularly when emphasising organic products and high-end culinary offerings, this transformation becomes a delicate dance between preserving time-honoured flavours and techniques while embracing innovation. Working within such a culinary framework demands a thoughtful approach to each dish, marrying the authenticity of traditional Italian recipes with contemporary twists.

FT: My culinary style and approach to cooking have profound significance in infusing traditional dishes with a modern sensibility. This approach requires meticulous attention to detail and a deep understanding of putting in the time and care to perfect each dish.

How do you balance tradition and innovation in your culinary creations?

GP: When balancing tradition and innovation, start with a solid understanding and appreciation of culinary traditions. This includes studying classic techniques, recipes, and cultural influences that have stood the test of time. As chefs, we must respect traditional flavour profiles but also explore innovative ways to reinterpret or enhance them. This can involve experimenting with unique combinations of herbs, spices, and seasonings, breathing new life into familiar tastes, and exploring innovative avenues to reinterpret and elevate the classics.

FT: Take classic recipes and give them a modern spin by incorporating new ingredients, flavours, or cooking methods. This approach allows us to pay homage to our culinary heritage while embracing the spirit of innovation and evolution. It’s about striking a delicate balance between honouring tradition and inviting innovation, ensuring that each dish tells a story of culinary craftsmanship and creativity.Moreover, structuring menus to offer a variety of traditional and innovative dishes provides diners with a range of options, catering to both those seeking familiar comforts and those looking for adventurous culinary experiences.

As you both bring different sets of expertise to the table, how do you manage your roles within the kitchen?

GP: As Chic Nonna’s Group Executive Chef, I am responsible for crafting and creating the dishes, bringing my years of culinary expertise and savoir-faire to the kitchen. Meanwhile, Francesco, the restaurant Head Chef, oversees the culinary team, ensures the consistent quality of every dish, and manages the customer-facing aspects of the restaurant.

FT: With my role as Chic Nonna’s Head Chef, I oversee the culinary team and ensure the consistent quality of every dish and manage the customer-facing aspects of the restaurant. As Group Executive Chef, Giuseppe is responsible for crafting and creating the dishes, bringing with him his years of culinary expertise and savoir-faire to the kitchen.

What is the hero dish at Chic Nonna?

GP: Bavette Nerano, a delightful culinary creation of Bavette pasta that pays homage to the flavours and traditions of the charming village of Nerano, located along the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.

FT: Calamarata Pasta, a classic Neapolitan pasta featuring succulent calamari bathed in a light and brothy tomato sauce. It’s a vibrant plate of tender squid, handmade al dente pasta tubes, and fresh juicy tomatoes.

What does the future hold for Chic Nonna?

GP: In my vision for Chic Nonna, I’m aiming to create a new Michelin contemporary approach to traditional dishes, especially when it comes to the presentation of the dishes, the quality of products used, and being approachable in the market for everyone to enjoy. Looking ahead, we’re currently working towards expanding globally with some exciting new locations in different corners of the world.

FT: The future of Chic Nonna holds tremendous potential for growth and expansion on a global scale. We’re currently in the exciting phase of exploring opportunities to bring the beloved Italian flavours of Chic Nonna to new locations across different corners of the world.

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