Amerigo Tito Sesti – Head Chef at Michelin-starred restaurant J’AIME, Bangkok
Italian-born chef Amerigo Sesti has worked in several Michelin-starred establishments throughout Europe. Today Chef Amerigo works as Head Chef at Michelin-starred restaurant J’AIME in Bangkok.
In this entertaining interview he talks about his Italian roots, French cuisine and how he learned to juggle all the influences he encountered on his culinary journey without causing or creating conflict.
Amerigo Sesti – Chef’s Portrait
Amerigo, today you are Head Chef at Jean-Michel Lorain’s Michelin-starred restaurant J’AIME in Bangkok, with many previous experiences in the fine dining world. That requires a lot of passion for cooking. Where does your passion come from?
I must say that I don’t have roots that relate me to the kitchen. If the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree, then what I have taken from my family is the dedication to the beauty, the passion for the arts, the sense of colours, the creativity. All those things I found them also in the gastronomy.
My parents were “restaurateurs” – but of ancient paintings. Maybe I misinterpret the word, then my love for sweets made the rest. Firstly, I wanted to be a pastry chef, then while practicing at the culinary school I start thinking: “Why not to look for a wider pallet of ingredients? More freedom, more tones to draw my imagination in a plate.” And that was it.
Which cooking school did you attend first?
Right after middle school I insisted that my only way could have been in culinary, so my mother surrendered and sent me to the closest and renamed institute of San Pellegrino. Since the middle school, I always wanted to do an exchange program, live abroad, and while studying culinary, where could be better place than in France, so I spent the 4th year of my high school in Bordeaux, and back to San Pellegrino to graduate.
What did you learn most during your time at the Lycée d’Hotellerie de Gascogne?
How seriously, methodically and progressively food is taken in France. Beside that it was my first traveling and adapting experience, the first glace for a never-ending thirst.
Then you had the opportunity to work under eminent names in the restaurant field, including Alain and Michel Roux and Patrick O’Connell. How did these luminaries influence your way of cooking until today?
Experiences as the one at the Waterside Inn build the spine, the nerve system of a career in the restaurant world, they give the organization and the work ethic, a classical stamp. They make peoples chose if they want to be chefs or just like to cook. My pilgrimage at the Waterside Inn was the first strong mentorship.
Passion is crucial to do this job properly – Amerigo Sesti
You also trained to be a pastry chef and chocolate master with Frederique Bourse. Can you share one of your latest pastry creations with us?
I had the chance to train, even if only for a short time under the skilful pastry chef Frederique Bourse, his technicity and ease in composing delightful desserts, enchanted me and inspired me. Sometimes I’m brought to create new desserts recipes from scratch and I wish I could have half of his skills to do that.
One of the latest desserts appeared in J’AIME was a Grappa-Baba’ with berries and a vanilla mascarpone cream. My hope for this dessert was to be as pleasing and adaptable to everyone’s taste, as a Barbapapa fitting to everyone’s will.
Before you moved to Thailand, you honed your skills to a fine degree at Jean-Michel Lorain’s Côte Saint Jacques (two star Michelin restaurant), under the tutelage of Jean-Michel himself. What was your greatest learning during this time?
La Cote Saint Jacques and Lorain’s family are a true piece of history in the French gastronomy. Solid bases and the respect for the simplicity of pleasure, given by the products and “gourmandise”. Is important to learn how to keep the integrity of our tradition being able to look at the future at the same time, that is what appends at La Cote. Lorain are passionate peoples, and that is crucial to do this job properly.
At the beginning of your career as a chef you worked at Ristorante Bocconi in the Hotel Amigo in Brussels, Belgium. What experiences did you gain there?
Working at Bocconi was my childhood, professionally speaking, is where I learn for the first time the meaning of teamwork, sweat and more sweat were on the daily order. I established very close friendship in a relative short time there. Is the place where many of the first mistakes were made, and from those learnt how to improve. “Pride” is what I take out from my time at Bocconi.
You were born in Italy, trained in France and work as Head Chef for the French restaurant J’AIME by Jean-Michel Lorain in Thailand. What fascinates you about French cuisine?
To me French cuisine set the standards, not because they created it, but they were smart enough to record it and class it efficiently. Starting from those basics everything is possible. You learn the techniques, and then you have all the ingredients to express your creativity, your sense of taste in a delicate balance, where all notes have to find their time to speak. To me French cuisine offer this freedom of expression and progress, with a clear and classic grammar that makes the final results still comprehensible and meaningful. Maybe that sound a bit theoretical but is the way if feels for me.
What are the similarities between French and Italian cuisine? And what differences are there?
They are both old, wise, truth and comforting as good grandmothers. But their characters are different as they have different backgrounds and history.
One is more deeply attached to her land and tradition, frankly and more direct, democratic but diffident toward the institution, simpler but incomparably diverse, rich of thousands influences and its contrasts, naturally charming but yet unpretentious.
The other one is more refined, delicate, sophisticated, elegant, sometimes sumptuous and garnished of imperial luxury but capable of turning into an illuminated revolutionary. She like to surprize, to be free, independent, just, unfortunately, very full of herself. Sounds about right?
Would you say that there is a French Italian fusion kitchen?
France was very, present, let’s say, in part of northern Italy as near as a century ago. Italians appended to migrate wherever they could possibly walk, ride or sail and with them their tradition, their food. So they were in France as probably everywhere else. Traditionally some kind of fusion already took place but many are too proud to admit it. Under a purely gastronomic point of view, any fusion is possible the problem is always about obtaining a harmonious result. In the case of French and Italian cuisine there are enough diversity but also affinity to work out an interesting mix, I suppose.
After so many experiences as an international chef – how would you describe your own culinary line today?
I wouldn’t be able to define it yet, I’m still under construction, and enjoying changes, I might always be, but I know what I like and mostly I follow my belly instinct.
Sometimes my Italian belly makes a noise but I keep it quite enough to not confuse the guests – Chef Amerigo and his Italian roots
Since the opening of J’aime in 2014, the kitchen has been run under your regime and has become a Michelin-starred establishment. How would you describe the current culinary setup of J’AIME?
From the beginning we always tried to represent Mr. Lorain cuisine in Thailand, bring the family history and traditional dishes. Little by little as my understanding of Lorain’s cuisine became more accurate, I start creating alongside that cooking philosophy. But since a few months and more and more in the upcoming year we would like to localize our recipes, adopt the local products without adhering to the locals flavours. Discovering and re-presenting local ingredients trough French cooking methods and approach, without creating any fusion but simply adapting to the territory which I think any chef should do.
We really want to represent the fact of being a French fine dining restaurant operating in Thailand and not trying to reproduce a French restaurant out of France. My Italian belly sometimes makes a noise but I keep it quite enough to not confuse our guests.
You literally have French, Italian and Asian influences in your kitchen. Does it sometimes create conflicts?
I think I can consider to have only Italian and French influences in my cooking style. When it comes to Asian, we can certainly say that I use many local ingredients but I always try to make them mine, so to speak. I bring the Asian ingredients to my sphere of knowledge, the technical one and the experiential ones, but I’m still too new to Asian cuisine to adopt their methods or tastes. The methods can be learned and practiced, but to absorb, memorize and work on a taste it takes decades. By contrary the French and the Italian flavours I feel them mines, I know them I understand them and I can juggle with it without getting or creating conflicts and confusion.
Do you also get your inspiration for new creations from the local Thai cuisine?
Inspiration comes literally from everything, what we see, what we taste, what we listen, what we smell, what we feel, what we experience, consciously, and unconsciously sometimes. Could be a conversation, a song, a person, a painting a sequence of random thought, a kiss, anything! So I think that we can probably saying that by living in BKK for more than 4 years, than my inspiration might have come at some point also from Thai kitchen, but I’d say that it would fit in the “sometime unconscious” part of inspiration.
If you have days off, what are some of your favourite Thai street food dishes and places?
In my first year I used to eat more Thai food, and then less and less, in my day off I always eat different cuisines, unless I cook some pasta at home. The Italian side has to come out at some point. (laughs).
By the way some of my favourites Thai foods are: som o salad, larb, kao soi, moo ping, and different kind of rice or tapioca flower shapeless colourful things soaked in warm coconut milk, which I never remember the name.
Which less known spices and ingredients do you use?
Gak fruit, dok pak prang, bai cha cram, sea pineapple, ginko, and some others that I don’t know how to spell, but I’d be happy to make you try.
What are your special / unique cooking techniques?
Don’t think I have create any cooking technique yet, but I’ll let you know if something comes up.
Thank you very much, Chef Amerigo!
Chef Amerigo knows: Passion is crucial to being a great chef.
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