Liborio Colonna – Executive Chef at Serafina Dubai and at Simply Italian Restaurant, Dubai
Liborio Colonna made a life-changing decision and left the university to follow his true passion. He became a chef! Early in his youth, Chef Liborio helped his grandmother and mother in the kitchen while cooking. And he developed a feeling that this is something he would like to do all his life.
Chef Liborio gained his first experience as a professional chef in London and his culinary journey brought him to Dubai. Today, the Italian-born chef works as Executive Chef at Serafina Dubai and at Simply Italian Restaurant, Dubai.
Liborio Colonna – Chef’s Portrait
A good chef can always find a solution.
Liborio, after many different international cooking experiences, you now work as Executive Chef at Serafina Dubai and at Simply Italian Restaurant (Ginza Restaurants LLC) in Dubai. How did your career as a chef begin? Why did you become a chef?
My career began when I was 13 years old in a restaurant Agriturismo (farmhouse), where I started to explore the kitchen world. At the time, I was just a chef helper and I did it for fun. It’s very hard for a job with long hours and hard work, but I did not care because I felt it would be the job of my life.
Where does your passion for being a chef come from?
Since I was very young, the food and the way it was made attracted me. I always wanted to help my grandmother and mother with cooking, and I think my passion for cooking comes from them, that they were my teachers and definitely from all the good products that my city and my country (Gravina in Puglia) have to offer.
Which culinary school did you attend first in Italy?
I did not go to a culinary school because my parents were looking for a different future for me that was not a cook. That’s why I followed the advice and so I attended the High School “Liceo Scientifico G. Tarantino” and the University of Construction Engineering. In the meantime, I kept working in the kitchen, growing my passion for it more and more. During my third year at university I realized that I was doing something I did not like, so I decided to leave the university and move to London to start a new chapter in my life as a chef.
At the beginning of your chef career, you moved to London, where you worked as Senior Chef de Partie in an Italian restaurant. How do you remember your first job as a chef abroad?
When I moved to London for the first time, it was very difficult for me; far away from the family in a big metropolis with different language and working methods. I felt alone and stressed, but I decide to keep going, and thanks to the family and friends who encourage me, I have continued this hard journey that has brought me to where I am now.
Later, in London, you worked as a sous chef at Morton’s Club for a few years. How did this time influence you as a chef?
Morton’s club was my real school and the chefs in charge were my real teachers. In this place I have learned so many techniques from the French Classic to the Mediterranean Fusion Cuisine in fine dining way. I worked there from 8am to 11pm or later, five times a week.
I really would say that it was very tough, but that made me the chef I am now and if I could come back, I would definitely do it again. I have to thank the corporate chef and chef de cuisine who have trusted me and to let me grow. In the meantime, in the summer of 2014, the Corporate Chef sent me to New York for a few weeks in one of our company restaurants A VOCE Madison (1 Michelin star) to learn new techniques and to see a different style of cuisine. I came back to London and after a while I decided that I had to move and explore a new city, that’s why I move to Dubai.
From London to Dubai as Sous Chef – at Kempinski Beluga Beach Restaurant. What was your biggest experience during this time?
When I moved to Dubai, I was very excited to move to one of the fastest growing cities in the world, but I was not aware at all of all the differences that I would have to face at work. Many items were not used in the Dubai Restaurant. This means that your kitchen is somehow restricted. This little problem is gone with time, because a good cook can always find a solution.
The Beluga Beach Restaurant was a wonderful restaurant. Fine dining on the beach of one of the most important hotels in Dubai, located in the Palm Jumeira. This restaurant was the stepping stone to the growth of my career, because thanks to working in this restaurant and, of course, my past in London, I got a job offer as head chef for the Serafina Restaurant Dubai. So I went from Sous Chef to Head Chef.
Today you work as Executive Chef at Serafina Restaurant Dubai and Simply Italian Restaurant. What is the culinary offer there?
The culinary offer in Serafina and Simply Italian is Italian cuisine with a modern twist. We try to be authentic, but at the same time we follow the real Italian tradition. We are a mixture of casual and fine dining.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
I would call my culinary style modern Mediterranean cuisine.
Dubai is a culinary hotspot, but also very competitive. How innovative do you have to be while working in Dubai?
In Dubai you must follow the trend in any case, but in the meantime do not forget your roots, so always combine your memory and the innovation of the moment.
Can you please share some of your latest creations with us?
Sure, I will share some creations of my portfolio. However even if in Dubai most of the year the weather is hot and you don’t have a real season, I follow the sason by the Italian calendar and season.
Some of my latest creations are:
- Pumpkin & ricotta Tortelli with some pumpkin puree, toasted hazelnut, pumpkin seed, Pecorino Toscano (Picture 1/5)
- Variation of marinated and cooked Beetroot Salad with baby gem, walnuts, and goat cheese (Picture 2/5)
- Gnocchetti pasta with Chickpeas, Smoked Bacon, Cherry tomato, basil, and Pecorino Romano (Picture 3/5)
- Baby Squid, Datterino Tomato acqua pazza and Polenta stick (Picture 4/5)
- Salmon Tartare, Blood orange, and citrus cannelloni (Picture 5/5)
Good Italian food is about high-quality ingredients. Where do you get your ingredients from?
Definitely true! Most of our main ingredients come from Italy through some Italian suppliers. The price is more than twice as high, but the quality is a must if you want to offer a good Italian cuisine.
What are the latest culinary trends that you see in Dubai today?
In Dubai, some of the most popular trends are South American cuisine and Turkish steakhouse. Of course, we cannot offer South American dishes, but we took a cut from the Turkish steakhouse and implemented some of the best steaks available in the market in our restaurant. That was a great success.
What are your favourite local street food dishes and places in Dubai?
One of my favorite street food is a chicken tandoori wrap or some cold meza, which can be found all over Dubai.
It all depends on you. – Chef Liborio about finding a chef job in Dubai
How do you keep up to date with the culinary/chef scene in Italy?
I’m up to date through the internet and all the chefs forum while I’m abroad and when I’m in Italy, I visit many good restaurants to see and test the newest developments of the Italian cuisine.
What are some of the lesser-known spices that you use in cooking?
The spice that I love most is star anise.
And which lesser-known vegetables?
I love Fennell, which is pretty well known in Italy, but not here in Dubai. Also, I love to create dishes with Jerusalem artichoke or Topinambur – these are not well known but have an incredible taste.
What are some of your unique cooking techniques?
Mostly my cooking techniques are traditional, but for some of our dishes we use the water bath and Smoking Gun Machine to get some texture and taste out of the normal range.
Is there a place in the world where you would like to work as a chef someday?
One day I would like to return to Italy and find a nice place to work share all the baggage that I have accumulated during these years abroad.
Many cooks would like to work in Dubai. Is it difficult to find a job as a chef in Dubai today?
I do not think it’s difficult to find a chef job in Dubai, it all depends on you! There are thousands of restaurants so you need to choose carefully which is more appropriate for your style and salary expectation.
Thank you so much for your time and these wonderful insights, Chef Liborio! We wish you all the best!
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