Gaetano Trovato – Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux and owner of Arnolfo Restaurant
Gaetano Trovato is the chef and owner of Arnolfo Restaurant. He focuses on local ingredients of Siena and Tuscany. But even the greatest chef just has to to sit at the table and eat when his mother is cooking.
A chef portrait of Gaetano Trovato
For many years you have been the chef and owner of the legendary Arnolfo Restaurant, which has won several awards, including 2 Michelin stars. Where did your journey start as a chef? What drove you to become a chef?
Giovanni and I, owners of Ristorante Arnolfo in Colle Val D’Elsa, are originally from Sicily and come from a typical large family, where mother Concetta was a housewife and his father was a farmer.
My first job during my studies was in a bakery, I love everything that has to do with bread and leavening. After that, I wanted to travel a bit and discover the food treasures of the world.
You have made your masters in St. Moritz in Switzerland. What impressed you most about Swiss cuisine as a young Italian chef?
St. Moritz was truly innovative and dynamic in the 1980s. I wanted to be part of this food revolution, improve myself and learn as much as I could. I worked at Kulm.
I loved the French influence and the great organization.
Have you been a passionate chef right from the beginning of your career?
Yes, 100%. It sounds hard to believe, but I still love it and I still enjoy doing my job.
As someone said – “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
You were born in Sicily and moved to Tuscany early in your career. From a culinary point of view – What is the main difference between these two regions?
Climate, food, people, landscape vary greatly from region to region.
The special geographic location of the place and its solar radiation have a significant influence on the design of the local microclimate. Sicily has the Mediterranean climate that gives vegetables a unique taste. They use a lot of vegetables, fish – in Tuscany instead, meat is used more often.
Does your current style of cooking still have unique elements of Sicilian cuisine?
Definitely! Since the beginning, my goal has been to connect my favorite regions because they are part of my past, present and future.
I have many products from Sicily like Pistacchio di Bronte or Almonds FINISCI.
You have various professional experiences in some of the best Swiss and French restaurants. What influence did Swiss and French cuisine have on you?
They definitely influenced my technique – how I served the dish, the organization, the consistency and the accuracy.
At the age of 26, you were awarded 2 Michelin stars. Are the stars a heavy burden for a young chef or have the stars put you under “positive pressure”?
Obviously in the beginning I felt under pressure.
When you are young you are worried that you may not be good enough to receive or maintain such an important award as Michelin Star, but as you grow up you will learn the lessons of your mistakes. And you realize that the strength is in you. And if you work with love, passion and pure honest dedication, you will always be more than enough!
For many years you have been known for your great emphasis on simplicity and purity of seasonal flavors. How can you keep this approach while being innovative?
Above all, the selection of raw materials is the key to maintaining purity and quality. We must not forget where we come from, we must respect and love our products without destroying the taste and texture with complicated and heavy cooking processes.
The innovation comes from the continuous study of combinations. Chefs need to be brave and experiment as much as they can.
“I cannot even put my nose in the kitchen” – Gaetano Trovato, when his mother is cooking
Excellent ingredients are the basis for a great chef and good food. Do you have a close relationship with some farmers and producers in your area?
Of course! My suppliers are all local and passionate.
Vegetables come from Colle di Val d’Elsa, from “Azienda Agricola Sant’Ulivieri” or “Cavolo a Merenda”, they are two young men who love their work. Their products are free of chemicals and organic.
Meat such as pigeons, poultry, etc. come from Laura Peri, who takes care of the animals in a very remarkable way. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Fracassi, one of my dearest friends and suppliers, has been delivering quality since 1927.
As a Michelin starred chef, certain innovations are required. Where do you get your inspiration for new innovative ideas?
The best way to get inspired is to travel the world, study new techniques and learn different combinations.
I do a lot of events around the world, especially in Asia.
Hand on the heart! The heroes in Italian cuisine are often the grannies. Do you still get some inspiration from them?
100%. Grannies are amazing! They can achieve an absolutely great level of quality while cooking.
I have my main inspiration from my mother. My mother is a great cook, and even today, when she prepares sauce, the aroma fills all the streets of the historic center and she even prepares the dough by hand – regularly twice a week when we meet for lunch.
On these occasions, she is the chef in the kitchen and I cannot even put my nose in the kitchen, I just have to sit at the table and eat!
In addition to the 2 Michelin stars you have received many other awards, including 3 stars by Luigi Veronelli, 3 forks in the Gambero Rosso Guide, Outstanding Chef in L’Espresso Guide. Do these awards affect your work or your creativity?
Of course, a good review or award affects my work and creativity, but everything I do is for my guest and myself. If the guest leave my restaurant happily, it also changes my mood and above all, it drives me to do even better. To surprise them as soon as they are back.
You are a member of “Relais & Châteaux”. What does “Relais & Châteaux” mean for you as an ambitious chef?
Relais & Châteaux is one of the best associations in the world, starting 60 years ago. It means quality, excellence, love for quality and beauty.
It’s amazing to be part of the Relais & Châteaux family, we have good communication between us. They are always ready to help you. We have several important meetings where we can discuss important topics of hospitality. They are very concerned about the environment and always have new initiatives.
How would you describe your culinary line as chef today?
Exploration of new raw materials MADE IN ITALY, modernity, quality, balance.
What are your favourite ingredients?
- Zucchini Flowers
- Passion Fruit
- John Dory
One of your menus is called Essence of the Land. Do you work with different flavors in combination?
Yes! The key is cook them separately and then combine them together.
How often do you change the menu?
Every 4 months. Each season has a different menu because every season has different products.
One of your summer menus is called “vegetable architecture”. Has vegetarian cuisine gained in importance for you in recent years?
Above all, I think it is very healthy to eat vegetarian food.
The number of vegetarians has increased in the last 10 years. So I decided to create a special menu for them that shows that an innovative vegetarian tasting menu could be possible.
Can you share your favourite recipe/dish with us?
Pigeon | pomegranate | chestnut
Shrimp | Indivia Belga Brasata | Fois Grass e passion Fruit
Your guest can overnight in one of the rooms offered by you. Arnolfo Restaurant is well-known. But what do you offer your guests for breakfast? The same as the Italian grandma would offer?
Kind of! We make our own croissants, well, we have 3 or 4 different kinds of brioches, large cheese selection, salami, fresh fruit, homemade fruit juice.
I am sure that many ambitious chefs would like to work with you. Is there a chance for them to work for you?
Of course, they just have to call me and make an appointment.
If you could spend two weeks in any kitchen in any place in the world and learn, where would it be?
I would to love cook with my colleague Nagaghiashi Kyoto.
Thank you very much, Gaetano!