Rampoldi's new head chef Antonio Salvatore begins the Monaco restaurant's daring second act
Rampoldi's executive chef tells Tempus about the business of cooking and why the region's regulars will be his judge
In decadent Monte-Carlo, there's no shortage of culinary treats and extravagant dining experiences to compliment a day at the yacht show or famous casino. So how does the principality's dining institutions stay as fresh and exciting as when its patrons included the endlessly glamorous actress turned royal Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco?
For restaurant Rampoldi, which for 70 years has been a Monegasque staple situated just a stone's throw from the Hotel Metropole, the key is in the cuisine. Executive Chef Antonio Salvatore emphasizes local producers and the finest ingredients for his Mediterranean-inspired menu. As an addition to the restaurant, the 31-year-old brings truly international experience, having risen through the rank in restaurants such as Michelin-starred El Chaflán, Spain, and Semifreddo-Mulinazzo in Moscow.
Here, Salvatore tells Tempus about setting his menu, why today's chef must be a businessman, and why his Monegasque regulars will be the judge of Rampoldi's second act…
Congratulations on joining Rampoldi as the restaurant's new head chef. How did it come about?
Thank You! I left home at 14 to study at hotelerie school and from there I worked in restaurants across Italy, London, Madrid's Michelin-starred El Chaflán and then finally I ran Nino Graziano's restaurant Semifreddo-Mulinazzo in Moscow. Each country taught me something new. I got to know the culture, the history and the people. Each of these elements influence your cooking and are inseparable from your work as a chef. I studied each region's produce and traditions, as I really wanted to understand the local cuisine and history. All of these experiences helped me to grow as a chef and an individual, getting me to the point where I felt I was ready to create my own vision. At the right moment the phone rang and I was invited to become head chef at Rampoldi. I must say, I'd been aware of the restaurant and its history for a long time. The choice was easy to make. Challenge accepted! Here I am.
Joining a restaurant with such a strong reputation, you must have been keen to make your mark on the menu. How did you go about doing that?
For me it needed to be a very thoughtful process. After all, Rampoldi has more than 70 years of history and it is well loved by guests. I wanted to safeguard Rampoldi's reputation for excellent service yet bring a freshness to the kitchen. I communicate a lot with guests, as their opinions, preferences and feedback are invaluable. I studied local and regional produce, choosing only the best to be included in our menus. I added my experience and knowledge in kitchen management. I dare to hope that Rampoldi has begun an exciting second act - our guests will be the judge. >>
Your menu combines Mediterranean flavours with perfect presentation - where do you start when creating a dish?
Every day the kitchen stirs up different energy and emotions. I like to gather ideas together and create something new. For me the process always begins with the very best ingredients, so I focus on seasonal products typical of this territory. Next add a pinch of tradition, a spoon of experience, a drop of magic - and you're done.
Where did your passion for cooking begin?
I was born and raised in the beautiful medieval hamlet of Guardia Perticara in southern Italy. My family had a small farm and an olive tree plantation. Since my earliest days, I spent a lot of time on the farm, watched and participated in the preparation of cheese from the milk of our sheep, made olive oil, baked bread and so on. We would often go to the forest with our dog, who was specially trained to sniff out truffles. My family also had a wonderful tradition of home cooked dinners, the preparation of which I took an active part in. My parents saw my interest in the kitchen and constantly encouraged it.
What inspires you in the kitchen?
The kitchen for me is not just a job; it's my life. My style is influenced by a combination of traditions, from the heritage of my Italian upbringing to my international experience. My menu is updated every season, as new produce and tastes allow me to incorporate fresh ideas into the Rampoldi menu. I listen carefully to guests in this respect. Although the menu is updated seasonally, there is a core menu that does not change, I think that is important. Some of our guests come back for their favorite dishes almost every day. >>
You were also a private chef for a jet-setting Sheikh. How does that experience compare to a restaurant environment?
Yes, this was a very interesting experience to say the least! I learned a lot from daily communication and workings with the Sheikh and his team. Restaurant life is more multifaceted. In the restaurant you strive to satisfy the tastes of a large number of guests. In this regard running a restaurant kitchen provides perhaps more opportunities for development. However, I am forever grateful for this fantastic experience and all it taught me.
Monaco is a sensational events destination - from the Yacht Show and F1, to the supercar show and nearby events such as Cannes. Does this mean you have guests from all over the world? How does that impact your menus?
Monaco has always held an attraction for me. This is a place that welcomes an interesting and demanding clientele. Monaco is a gem. My international experience could not be put to better use than in the Principality, where we've got the gourmet on the hunt for exciting culinary innovation, to the hungry traveller seeking the best in classic French and Italian fare. It's certainly a good test of my cuisine. At Rampoldi I strive to create the 'taste' of Monaco.
You now teach young chefs yourself - what advice do you give budding chefs?
I believe that you cannot separate the kitchen from life, and I encourage chefs to build a solid foundation for their future careers based on the study of traditional gastronomy and history. It is very important in the initial stages to learn to appreciate and choose products, to understand how to combine them. It's a bit like piecing together a puzzle. You need to develop your own opinion on everything and constantly move forward, get out of your comfort zone. Cultivate the basics of daily work - show respect to everyone from the guests to your team of chefs and waiters and of course the ingredients themselves, try and emphasize the freshness of produce in your dishes as much as possible. Being a chef is like being an athlete, discipline is key. >>
Is there anyone you'd love to cook for? Have you ever cooked for any of your personal heroes?
I would very much like to present a special menu and cook for the Pope. This has been something of a dream of mine since childhood. At Rampoldi I have been lucky enough to cook for many of my heroes from sporting icons to Royalty.
In recent years, the role of a head chef is also concerned with the business and financial aspects. Do you feel it's important for chefs to have an aptitude for business?
For many, the modern role of a chef means that you must be a leader, a creative and a manager. Not just in the kitchen but in the business affairs of a restaurant too. It's the approach I like to take to the business but I understand it's not every chef's preference. You have to find a style that works for you.
What can people expect when they dine at Rampoldi?
First of all, expect only the highest quality and freshest products in every dish. I believe this is paramount. Whether it's an innovative gastronomic dish or a classic creation, it starts with the finest regional ingredients. The atmosphere is relaxing, with excellent service, care and attention to guests from our team. Our house delicacies include 'Le Rampoldi' beef steak tartare with Royal Premium caviar and apple sorbet. The Grilled Quail 'alla Cacciatora' served with rice is a tip of the hat to my homeland, Basilicata. My dessert selections also reflect the seasonal bounty of the region - in February try 'Le Citron', which is lemon and mint pieces covered in white chocolate mousse, coated in a crispy shell arrive at the table in quite literally a puff of smoke, with dry ice poured over fresh mandarins and lemons. This diffuses the citrus aroma across the table, transporting diners to Menton's lemon festival just a few miles down the coast.