He has a lot of experience in the field and a sincere passion for cooking that he says is part of his DNA. Born in Campania, and currently living in Sicily, chef Aldo Iannarella comes from two regions where there is a strong link with the culinary arts and gastronomy, bringing with him an indispensable “natural” and cultural background.
Although only 25 years old, Aldo already works in a kitchen of his own at Passafiume Cantina Bistrot, where he can freely experiment with local flavours in combination with international techniques, convinced that a cuisine has to maintain its link with local products while taking inspiration from the rest of the world.
Let’s begin by talking about your experience. When did you decide to become a chef and when did you first become aware of your passion for cooking? Let’s start at the beginning.
“I first decided to become a chef when I was still a child, but I took this path only about four years ago because before that I was doing something completely different. In fact, I went to a scientific high school, so quite the opposite.
I was born in Campania, but I live in Sicily– both are well-renowned regions of Italy in terms of their culinary tradition. I was always going to develop a passion for cooking. In my first two jobs- first at Cortile Pepe in Cefalù with Toti Fiduccia, and later at Ristorante Galleria – I honed my skills, together with my friend Antonio Di Maggio. This year we are at Passafiume Cantina Bistrot, and for the first time I get to be in charge of the kitchen.”
As a chef today, how do you deal with all the responsibility?
“I get to work very early to get everything organised, starting with the storeroom. I like to call myself a “cook” and not a “chef”. My kitchen is immaculate and impeccable, from the presentation of the food to the quality of ingredients. Nothing can be neglected.”
What is your relationship with the local produce? What are your preferences?
“When it comes to fruit, vegetables, and especially citrus fruits, I have very specific preferences. We are in Sicily, so why not purchase good locally-grown lemons, oranges, and mandarins. But I don’t limit myself to the local cuisine: there are many foreign products that should be appreciated and prepared in a certain way, and maybe revisited with some local matches. A compromise is possible between the local products, in their diversity and seasonal availability, but in combination with international ingredients. On the menu, we have, for example, cod and chickpeas with cherry tomato confit. The cod comes from the North Sea, while the cherry tomato is a local product from Pachino, lightly baked, reduced with sugar and salt and served with thyme and lemon.”.
Many vegans agree that Italian cuisine is one of the most accommodating for those who try to avoid animal products, since there are so many delicious ingredients, such as fruit and vegetables. What is your relationship with customers who have special dietary requirements?
“It’s great. On our menu, for example, you can find some vegan dishes starting with the gazpacho, which consists of diced peppers, tomatoes, red onions, sugar, salt, and I also add some green apple. It can be served with some basil in the centre, and some local octopus for non-vegetarians, which was first blanched and then grilled. We had very positive feedback, this is a very popular dish in our restaurant.”.
The dishes are served according to what is in season. What kind of dish would you make now?
“At this time, I would make bucatini pasta, with extract of red shrimp, field beans and burrata cheese. It has a very strong taste, that not everyone understands. There is the red shrimp extract, the contrast that the field beans bring in – you could say that they clean up the taste a bit, – and the lemon. Many people like it, but it has to be savoured and understood.”
What kind of dish do the foreigners normally choose?
“They often choose meat. On the menu, for example, we have pork fillet cooked at a low temperature, covered with a stock that we prepare ourselves, served with a sauce of peppers and jacket potatoes. We often offer great desserts served in a glass. For example, our pannacotta and raspberries with a salted chocolate and mint crumble. Mint symbolises the little sprouts that grow from the black soil, which is the cocoa – a symbol of rebirth and prosperity.”
What can you tell us about your training? Was it all the result of your practical experience?
«“I gained some great experience working with Paolo Barrale, a Michelin star chef, at the Marennà restaurant, located inside Feudi San Gregorio winery in Sorbo Serpico. It was a tough but very educational experience. Working with ten people in one kitchen is not easy, everyone has their own section and their own knives.”
You are getting closer to your first summer season, the first one for Passafiume. The restaurant has been open only a few months and the kitchen has been becoming more and more active and complete. How do you feel about going through a tough season?
“I feel ready and prepared. We have a new menu consisting of four starters, four first courses and four desserts. On the blackboard, we put up some of the appetizers that can be served during the aperitif, from the cheese board with local specialities, the cone of fried food, the burger trio that we make.”
So, your idea of cooking is to reconcile the local products with the international ones, making them more relatable to a foreign clientele. I was really impressed by hummus – it’s a very particular type of food, difficult to recreate and combine with other foods. Why this choice?
“We’ve started looking into the Eastern cuisine- the Lebanese one to be precise. We enjoyed doing it with chickpeas, cumin, lots of garlic, a few drops of lemon, salt, and pepper. Always together with Carasau bread from Sardinia, which we absolutely love. It’s a special combination.”
In light of this combination of traditional cuisine and international ideas, how do you see the evolution of cooking? Where are the trends and fashions of the moment taking us?
“We are waking up. We are working hard, especially here, in the South, where people are very attached to the land and the local products. It’s taken us quite some time, but we’re getting there. We are leaving behind the so-called “grandmother’s cooking”, we are starting to think outside the box. Now we are more interested in experimenting with different techniques and temperatures, to stabilise a sauce, to keep the colour of vegetables alive. We are getting there, and I am getting there too. Because everyone is naturally inclined to prepare food the way their grandmothers did. The tourists who come here are happy to eat the local cuisine but to truly pamper your customers, you have to offer more sophisticated dishes, with different cooking concepts and combinations.”
Which dish reflects your personality, what would you recommend?
“Perhaps the gazpacho octopus we were talking about earlier. Yes, it is true, it comes from Spain, but we have modernised it with Sicilian products, such as the tomatoes. And the octopus is a real cult food in Campania, we sell these large pots of octopus boiled in its water. Once we have eaten the octopus, we drink the water which is very savoury, full-flavoured, it tastes a lot of the sea, the cliffs, and the rocks. It’s a great combination.”
Can you describe the Passafiume food, your food, with two adjectives?
“Fresh and genuine.”