Last Bite: Massimo Mantaro

The Italian chef discusses his plans to win a third Michelin star

Massimo Mantaro has won two Michelin stars for the Principe Cerami restaurant at the San Domenico Palace Hotel in Taormina, Italy.
Massimo Mantaro has won two Michelin stars for the Principe Cerami restaurant at the San Domenico Palace Hotel in Taormina, Italy.

Italian chef Massimo Mantaro talks to Caterer Middle East about his most memorable food experience and his goal to achieve a third Michelin star.

You are a Michelin star winner — what did that mean for you personally and professionally?

For me, it comes with great responsibility because I owe it to the places I work, the customers we serve and the teams I work with to go for every possibility. I have an obligation to provide consistency to my customers. Sure you can win a Michelin star today, but what about tomorrow? You need consistency; that’s what counts. Personally it was very emotional, of course. When you get your first Michelin star, you are over the moon. Getting the second one again came with great emotions. I’m not completely happy yet though. I’m now looking to get the third star; it is continuously striving for perfection.

What is your opinion of Italian food in the UAE?

Overall, there is a good level of Italian restaurants in and around Dubai; I was not expecting that. The level is there, the consistency is there.

Why did you decide to work with Ballarò at the Conrad Dubai and create its dishes?

Dubai is the perfect spot at the moment to locate a Sicilian restaurant. Here there is general Italian; it’s not something specific, so for me it was a good opportunity to place Sicilian food in the market.

What is your favourite part about Ballarò?

The overall concept of the restaurant. It is very simple; the restaurant is based on the concept of the Ballarò Market in Palermo, one of the most ancient markets that we have. People go there, they have a chat, everybody knows each other, they talk about family, they talk about food, the quality of the produce and that is the same thing we want to create in Ballarò; the conviviality of the table. ‘Convivialità’ we [Italians] call it.

What is your favourite dish on the menu?

Rigatoni alla Norma. It is based on tomatoes with garlic, fresh basil, deep fried aubergine and then you finish with some smoked ricotta cheese on top. It’s very, very typical Sicilian. Norma is an opera by Vincenzo Bellini; it was named after that.

Who has inspired you in your career?

Cooking, for me, is based on my family’s tradition of cooking. It is my heritage. All the basics I have learned from my family. And in addition, quite a few big Michelin-starred chefs brought me through the journey of becoming a Michelin-starred chef myself such as Alfonso Iaccarino, Cicco Sultano and Nino Graziano.

What is your advice to anyone who wants to get into the F&B industry?

In our job, it is very straightforward: either you love it or you hate it. It is a job where we have to sacrifice time since we spend most of it at the restaurant. In order to do this job you need the passion, the love for the food, and for the beverages. You also really have to be willing to learn because in this job you learn on a daily basis. It is all about continuous learning; nothing stops, everything is always changing.

What are the three ingredients you absolutely cannot cook without?

Oil, which is the base of everything. Herbs that give flavour and different aromas. I like all herbs, but my personal favourite is basil. And cherry tomatoes which give colour ... it’s the colour of life.

What has been your most memorable food experience to date?

The first time I tried to cook two fried eggs, I burned myself. It was the first time I ever tried to cook. It was definitely memorable, I will never forget it. I learned my lesson!

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