A philosophy of life guided by respect and freedom tells the chef Federico Sisti of today.
“I am a very free man, from all judgments and assumptions. What awaits me? Even today, I don’t know because I take a little bit of what’s there.
I hope to be lucky and that my ideas create something interesting, beautiful and good, the rest I will discover only by living. A wish? I just hope I get back to surfing more.”
Born in 1981 in Rimini, between the sea, the waves, and good food. His passion for cooking has its bases within the walls of the house: his father was a surveyor with a cooking passion, and his mother dabbled in cooking. “Since I was a child I liked to muddle with ingredients, I grew up with the scents of Sunday with fried dumpling, cappelletti with raw pesto inside, sincere flavors that are unforgettable for a child.” He attends the hotel school making his first steps with the apprenticeship: “the first year I was washing dishes, and I started making piadine, the good ones, though.” His life has always been riding him, like his waves, adapting to the rhythms, seizing opportunities, but leaving room for freedom and slowing down when needed. He works with big names in Italian cuisine, he travels the world grasping the nuances of different traditions and then bringing them back into his kitchen, he is also very determined in his choices not always aimed at fame, but at the search for quality. “After a few years, classic cuisine has begun to hold on to me because the market dominates all the restaurants in Italy in general. Today the everyday battle is oriented to the quality of the products I look for and work with: I want specific products, transform them, and sustainably preserve them, that’s my added value.
This is the starting point for my history, my philosophy, and my thinking today, which stems from the concept of respect that you learn naturally at home and later on in everyday life. This concept, for me, is linked to a fundamental aspect of my life that is the sea: if you don’t respect it, it is also capable of taking your life. I adopt the same approach with raw materials and with the people who sit at my table. That’s why today I don’t allow myself to judge but to advise, because I respect the work of other people and it’s also part of my personality: I’m a very free person, I started working when I was 16 years old, and from there I got to know the cultural differences, that without moving too much I can find them also between the piadina of Rimini and that of Riccione. I always try to adapt to the place where I go, and I find this even in the sea, there I adapt myself to the waves by choosing different sizes of boards. In everything I do, there is, therefore, a synergy, a spider’s web, which keeps everything connected. Last but not least, I also find it in the dishes: the different ingredients are always linked by a logical thread, whether it’s a taste or an idea”.
Do you think getting into the kitchen was a process or a hunch?
I think it was a very natural process. The kitchen that I’m doing now, I think, is a kitchen dedicated to Milan: a thought, a gift for Milan. Usually, in every place I go, I create new things; today, having traveled a lot, I work with different Asian products (through ingredients like soy, soba, and others). With the fact that I love the sea, I always look for freedom: I go on scooters, bikes, and travel. My new home today is Milan, where I arrived for love, but also for strong friendships such as the one with Diego Rossi, of Trippa restaurant, with whom there is an exceptional bond also thanks to our work together.
Is there any experience that defined the person you are today, on a personal and professional level?
There have been four great masters in my life who have defined me as a chef: Giovanni Ceresa, Stefano Ciotti, Aimo and Nadia, and Gaetano Trovato. In them, I found families, all with different rules – here we go back to the factor of respect for which one must acclimatize in diversity – but at the same time with the firm fist and substance of people who in the past years have created important bases for Italian cuisine. When I said in 2009 that I worked at Aimo and Nadia’s, nobody knew who they were. Today, with social network, you begin to know that there are an Aimo and Nadia in Milan, a Gaetano Trovato and so on: not only for the cuisine but also for a general gastronomic thought, so that they transmit, even to those who can’t afford it, a knowledge and a gastronomic education to everyone.
These were the masters who gave me the fundamental teaching, which contaminated me, but where I also influenced their cuisine, making it a bit of a master. I thank them still today for their lessons, and it was a great honor and a great fortune to have had them in my life. Another person who taught me so much is Yann Duytsche, a pastry chef in Barcelona, from whom I learned not only about cooking and pastry but also about life.
What stimulates your creativity in your daily life?
Respect and freedom. I think that a person who lives with respect and freedom is already a step further, even if the best moments of production are sometimes when you are under pressure.
What does surfing represent for you?
For me, surfing represents the pinnacle of freedom. Those who are not surfers don’t know it, and those who see the surfer from the outside believe we just are hippies. My new goal today is to be an ambassador of an idea: of a genuine cuisine, of clothing (in fact, I created a hat, and I would like to create new clothes that take up the daily life that is also linked to the kitchen). I’ve been related to fashion since I was a child because my mother was a shop assistant in a very precious garment store. So I’d like to try to play with fabrics in the future. As far as the sea is concerned, before it was a sport and entertainment, today it’s a fundamental lifestyle: it helps me feel better, to understand who I am. If five years ago, I rode 2-meter waves, today I no longer have the preparation to do it, because part of my strength is dedicated to cooking. This is fundamental to understand how to resize yourself, and it brings me back to the concept of always staying with the feet on the ground. Every now and then taking a few slaps from some waves makes me understand where I have to be: I bring it back into my real life. Simplicity, athletic preparation, and never give up.
This could be the fil rouge of my moment now, even if the first thought now is to lighten the kitchen a little bit and start again in a more consistent way with surfing, with more caution but with the same freedom that leads me to be sometimes still a few “reckless.”
What are your priorities now in this thread between past and present?
My priorities are to live happily making people next to me as happy as possible because there is so much anger in the world; this touches my heart. I try to act with specific actions so that in my small way, I can genuinely educate others. I try to deal with stress in the most genuine way possible: having experienced the breeze of the stage and popularity you are dealing with conflicting emotions, there is a lot of love but also a lot of fear.
Were there any particular moments of difficulty that represented a decisive turning point in your career?
Yes, and I think that thanks to the upbringing my parents gave me and the fact that thanks to them I made a lot of progress, I learned to live my freedom and this taught me to know what I wanted. I think I have earned the highest satisfaction in the difficulties, facing the great chefs and trying to be at their level at a very young age. Today I still feel I want a little bit more, not because I’m not able to be satisfied but because I know that if I keep playing like I am now, I can only improve.
I made the difference by training and continuing to work hard.
Do you have a heart dish that represents you?
It’s like music, once I put on the kitchen jacket the music starts: it can be rock, opera or any other genre. That’s why I can’t say that there is a specific dish that represents me because every dish represents me. It’s like saying: what’s your favorite dish? For me: “everything.” When I go out to eat, I prefer to taste more things to stimulate my appetite by tasting more stuff for the curiosity to discover new flavors and not to get bored.
Thinking about your origins, is there a smell or a dish that brings you back to a past emotional memory?
The smell of Sunday winter broth is a memory that is very important to me and that I link back to my family. For each broth, I try something different, and it is linked to different flavors; that too is a dish that has no boundaries.
If you were to approach your kitchen to an art form, what would you approach it to?
I would let the customer say this because, for me, it is natural. An art form that goes with my dishes could be music, from rock to opera to pop. It depends a bit on the dish: everyone has a different melody. Because music has always been a great passion of mine, and it’s easy to approach.
Was there a moment in your life when you wanted to take a different path?
I think there’s always a cycle in life. I started washing dishes, became a hotelier, and became a chef. I started having my first clients; then, I stopped because I still had to learn, and I wanted to work with great chefs. I was already earning a lot at that time, and I decided not to go down a path where I would have to give up some of my independence for internships. I know I’ve taken a more complicated and long road, but it’s tempting me, even more, today to get where I might have gotten before but with less awareness.
I stopped working in the stars seven years ago, I never stopped wanting that cuisine, but today I’m happy because the average restaurant industry is growing even though the low food is closing down. I found myself at the age of 31 thinking I was going to break the world after ten years of starred restaurants, and I was a bit stubborn, so I stopped there and started cooking in a traditional restaurant, I went around a bit, went home, traveled, and anyway, despite working in a hotel, I always brought the idea of making good, quality food into my work. I had 33,000 meals in one season and received almos none criticism.
We’re entering a cloud here. But remembering the sky, in every person I believe there are dreams and taking a step back from the concept of freedom we were talking about before, the only goal I see at the moment is to open my restaurant. With the love that Milan has given me and the appeal of the moment, despite it is a difficult city, I would like to open my place here: for the moment it is still a dream and an idea. I look around me towards my colleagues and try to learn from them, to open my mind and always grow. If I go to eat spaghetti with Bartolini’s eel, for example, it’s not that you will find it in my dishes, but I have discovered another way of cooking it. Or when I was in Japan, where I ate delicious smoked cheese. My first thought was to smoke a homemade product, the stracchino. It’s essential to travel because, in every journey, the brain takes a lot of input. The last experience at Ronchettino was great, and I thank the family for allowing me to express myself as I wanted. As far as this precise period is concerned, this is dedicated to the family, which is very important to me. I want to enjoy everything at 360° in order not to have regrets afterward, sharing with them joys and emotions. As there is a climb in life, there is also descent, and I just try to be myself, trying to excite people with what I do. I hope it can be like that in the future too.
How do you see the world of gastronomy today, and what do you think is changing globally?
The thing that makes me angry is that today low-medium food service is experiencing a time when people should learn more and have a context of their own life, while today, we tend to watch what the media say and copy and consequently. Small and medium quality gastronomy is disappearing, and there is a discrepancy with high-quality catering. The large-scale distribution offers excellent products but also battle products, which are not as valuable as those of a farmer, which do not conform to today’s Italian restaurants; in fact, many places that do not fit today are closing. Today, products are put on the market that benefits the buyer but not the consumer, and this is a bit unfortunate because if we think about the substance of our cuisine, which is poor in economic terms but very rich in concept, the basis of quality is lacking. So why don’t we bring this to the whole Italian table and eliminate the medium-low product? We must also get it into our heads that the excellent product is not only the one that costs a lot but also the one that enhances quality on a broader perspective. Today Diego Rossi di Trippa is promoting this very much, using the less valuable cuts from head to tail.
In Italy, many producers produce very well and are also working on a large scale: it is essential that the economy also marries this context and enriches and informs even the simplest kitchens. My advice today is always to improve and not stop: this is the essence of growth because you have to love what you produce.
My experiences have allowed me to work with few products, always fresh, which have allowed me to give a constant recirculation of the menu: this is my cuisine today, the result of a vast knowledge acquired over time. Awareness of the product should be made through education on what to buy and choose, only in this way you can make a good and fair catering, thus being able to enhance even the small restaurants. Today traditional cuisine is contaminated, plus in the future, these contaminations will become part of a new tradition. In my opinion, the kitchen is going towards a change that touches everything, food, the environment, society. Now it is fundamental to have to preserve what we have, both the flavors, the producers, and the products.