Chef Andrea Magnano is exploring internationally ingrediencies
Andrea Magnano, the Italian chef is exploring internationally ingrediencies and believes that food can change the planet and that chefs have the great power to influence the masses with their philosophy. We have met him for an interview.
Where did you learn to become a chef?
I got my passion at home from my grandma and mom. But my career was born in a remote village in the middle of the valley I come from in Italy, far north close to France in the most amazing kitchen that I could have started my career in. Fine dining, traditional flavours, very long hours – all starting from 14 years of age. All great memories and a wonderful time, where the people are now my second family. Every time I go back home I must visit them.
One of your first international jobs was the Demi Chef de Partie at CLARIDGES in London. What was your first impression?
I thought: “This is bigger than me. I hope I can do it right. I hope I’m good enough.”
Did you have the chance to practise your local Italian cooking style?
Some dishes that they were doing were Italian, but I asked if I could correct small details to make them more authentic during preparation yet still adopting the style that the hotel had. Don’t forget that back then CLARIDGES was the hotel where everyone in Europe wanted to work.
In London you worked in GORDON RAMSAY’s 2 MICHELIN star restaurant: Did this environment put you under a lot of pressure?
Oh yes, a heck of a lot of pressure!
But it was enjoyable. It taught me what it meant to be and breathe fine dining. From that point on I wanted to get even more stuck into my job and career and be more aggressive in my determination.
After your time in London, you moved to Melbourne, Australia for the Sous Chef position at the Crown Resort. Was this long distance a coincidence?
It wasn’t a coincidence. I made the conscious decision to go there. I wanted to see and explore more ingredients, our planet, understand the environments we work in. From small restaurants in the middle of a valley to a multicomplex casino (then among the biggest in the world).
Local Australia cuisine: Did you also cook kangaroo? And what about the local cuisine/cooking style was new for you ?
I cooked all the game that the land has to offer, including indigenous animal cuts. Crocodile was the most surprising. It has stayed with me in my mind and heart. The best crocodile I ever had in my life.
As for cooking style, back then fusion was the fashion. So a lot of the culinary skills and style were based on European/pan-Asian.
In 2005 you worked as the Chef de Cuisine at THE RITZ CARLTON DUBAI, looking after the fine dining Italian restaurant. Were you happy to be back in the Italian kitchen?
Well, I was happy as it was my first international hotel chain CDC position.
Compared to real Italian food in Italy, what was different in Dubai’s Ritz Italian kitchen?
I was on a road where I did not have to look at the way things were done in Italy as much as before, freedom of mind and my own philosophy started to form. So I was choosing great Italian ingredients – which, incidentally, you can easily get in Dubai from certified suppliers – and returning to all my experience worldwide with Italian techniques and some of my family recipes.
The year 2006 brought your ‘dream job’ working as Executive Sous Chef in Mauritius. Is it really a dream environment for a chef to work in Mauritius, and what did you do in your spare time – circumnavigate the island 100 times between shifts?
That was my first pre-opening experience of a luxury five-star resort. I had to do it despite receiving a huge offer to become Executive Sous Chef at the Emirates Tower in Dubai. I needed to get this experience under my belt. I was living in the middle of the island with my wife and working in the south almost two hours away.
Mauritius is not as small as you might think. It will still take you seven hours to drive all the way around it. And there are so many great natural landscapes and places to see. I really loved the waterfalls and tropical jungle.
In 2008 you opened your own restaurant in Cagliari in Sardinia: In 2010, the restaurant was selected by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 2010 as one of Sardinia’s top five restaurants. What could you want more as an Italian chef than to be back at home, with your own award-winning restaurant in such a nice place? Why did you move to Hong Kong in 2010?
The economy in my country was in a deplorable situation. The markets were very unstable and Cagliari as a city was in a recession.
That’s why it seemed like a smart move so as not to lose all my money. I didn’t have the necessary capital to be able to stay open without breaking even. But I’m happy anyway. Life is life!
In Hong Kong you worked hard and successfully in three different restaurants including as Group Executive Chef at Hong Kong’s top award-winning Aqua Restaurant Group. In this demanding management position, did you have time to become familiar with the local Asian cuisine?
I found it easier to understand the food culture than how people live. It was easy to pick up an ingredient and go wild with it; on every street corner I felt like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole discovering new flavours. I concentrate on ingredients alone, their origin, flavour and texture, the colour and sensation of those ingredients to do things my own personal way.
The Aqua Restaurant Group is linked to ARMANI: Did this fashion connection influence your job and your menus…?
Of course it did. I had many customised menus to make based on perfume fragrances, fashion collections and colours. It was all very personalised.
So you present Italian cuisine with an Italian fashion group: What is the same characteristic of Italian food and fashion that is admired in Asia?
Simplicity, taste and reassurance that never fails to deliver – considering that in both cases you are using great quality raw materials and flair to put them together.
Your next job as Executive Western Chef at the Shangri La Hotel in Guangzhou brought you further into China. Was it harder for you than in Hong Kong?
There I discovered that all the rumours about China being worse than Hong Kong, as many foreigners say and also said back then, were all nonsense. Hong Kong was concentrated solely on virtual society, and people’s lives are in a pattern of standardised routine much more than in China.
In China people are humbler and more understanding of life. As you know life there is harder, people are challenged to flourish in unexpected ways, and in my field, especially in Guangzhou, I found this amazing family of chefs and colleagues, my team, my Shangri La family. I had one of the most amazing times of my life as a chef and human being.
As an Executive Western Chef in China, were you free to influence the menu?
I had a lot of freedom to make the menus and choose ingredients. They trusted me to do the best I could and I did my best.
In recent years in China, so many new international restaurants have opened, backed by a lot of big investors and money. How does this influence the chefs?
As a chef you can’t let your guard down. Stand up and don’t let your judgement or beliefs just be clouded by the power of companies and the money behind them. This is the worst thing to happen to mankind since the discovery of energy sources.
In this new and wealthy society it is hard to find people, companies, investors who are willing to open up to a dream and philosophy, and not just think about money.
All of the chefs’ work and timings are based on how we see the world and food in it with our own eyes, souls, minds, and hearts. That’s why it is called a chef’s philosophy and not mathematics.
We do, of course, have to turn a profit but truly, first of all we need to provide a truly unique experience and make sure that the guest feels like our friend or even part of the family.
Do you still see a chance to open and run a small, simple and really good owner-managed European restaurant?
Like many of us are doing already, I would love to open my own place again one day to show the world that food can change the planet, and that chefs have one of the greatest powers of all as we influence the masses with our philosophies.
Your advice for young chefs who want to work in Asia to gain experience?
Forget what you know, welcome the unknown and be ready to step up to a game of high pressure, power and do not lose yourself or your focus for food.
Is there a certain country where they should start?
If you ask me, China. If you survive China you can survive everything else in Asia.