Antonio Di Maggio
For Antonio Di Maggio, cooking offers a sensory experience for those lucky enough to taste his food.
According to Antonio Di Maggio, the traditional limitations of cooking are now in the past. In fact, a modern cook must be able to prepare anything, from starters to desserts. Currently, a chef at the Galleria restaurant in Cefalù, he gained experience in Italy and abroad, but he came back to Sicily with a precise objective: to give value to his homeland by doing what he is best at – cooking.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
“I was actually the first person in my family to choose this career. I attended the Tourism and Hospitality high school in Cefalù and during those years, I gained great experience working seasonally at the Costa Verde Hotel in Cefalù. In this job, I learned a lot about the organisation and planning of banquets. Later, I studied in Brescia and I worked abroad, in Frankfurt and in London. These experiences allowed me to save money in order to fund my studies at Cast Alimenti Culinary School in Brescia- an academy of culinary arts that teaches both cooking and pastry-making. Specifically, I have followed the full one-year course- that included a pastry workshop- during which I refined my techniques in relation to the bakery, the planning of the perfect dessert, and to the creation of mini-pastries.
Why did you come back to Sicily and what was it like to return after all those experiences?
“I had to come back to Sicily because I felt a strong calling. My mission, if I can call it that, is to give value to what we already have here. If all the young people leave this island, there will be nobody left except elderly people who have already done their part in contributing to this land. We, the young people, still have to give our contribution and I liked the idea of doing my part.”
Professionally, do you define yourself as a pastry chef or as a chef?
“I am a pastry chef by profession, but a chef by vocation. Practice and education taught me those techniques that I have brought here. In today’s kitchen, we must have a wide spectrum of knowledge. The old concept of chefs with pre-established tasks doesn’t exist anymore. Now the team is a lot more compact, reduced- often because of economic reasons- and therefore a chef must be able to do everything.”
What could you not live without in your kitchen?
“Since I chose to come back to Sicily, the local products play a very important part. We are fortunate to have wonderful Slow Food products here that I really can’t work without. Just to mention a few: the red shrimp from Mazara and the dark chocolate of Modica.”
What course is modern cuisine taking? What is the right balance between traditional cuisine and what we see on TV in reality shows?
“In Cefalù, we are witnessing a significant growth thanks to the young entrepreneurs who believe in this land and give value to it. On a national level, we are the founders of the Mediterranean diet, and for this, we are envied by many other areas. I think that cuisine has taken a big step forward because we all feel the need to adapt to contemporary life, which is often very hectic. There is a lot more culture than in the previous years: the cuisine has evolved in a very positive way – now everyone pays a lot of attention to the quality of the ingredients.”
How important are these aspects to the foreign customers today?
“Very important. In fact, it’s only a myth that foreigners lack good culinary culture in comparison to us. On the contrary, they are much more advanced than certain parts of Italy.”
Name three qualities that every chef should have.
“A good chef must be very adaptable because every situation is different, and a professional chef must be able to adapt to the specific needs of the company he is working for. Curiosity is also very important because each chef, and each person who is trying to learn this craft, must be very curious in order to grow professionally. The third one is probably the dedication because you will have to make certain sacrifices on a personal level and focus on your own goals. My parents, and the professionals I worked with, have taught me that we grow in a positive way only when we have a specific goal in mind.
You are online, on all the social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and your name is often associated with the hashtag #Nutrireisensi (Nourish the senses). What does it mean?
“It all started in 2015- during my first year at Cortile Pepe- when I was in charge of a team for the first time. ‘Nourish the senses,’ as an idea, comes from the way I understand cooking: every customer who sits down to eat should have a wonderful experience, and be transported on a culinary adventure. And my aim is to nourish the senses with my dishes. A dish should look amazing to satisfy the eyes; it should taste good to satisfy the taste buds; it should have a variety of textures to satisfy the tasting; and it also should have certain sounds to satisfy the ears.”
You have two favourite dishes. One is more “institutional”, that characterises us as Italians…
“Our national food is the pizza, which is currently experiencing an exponential growth, both on a professional and an ethical level. Pizza is no longer like the way it used to be in the 1980s, but it has many variations: the gourmet one, the one with the ancient grains that can be from Sicily, Abruzzo, Lombardy, to the regional variants – Roman, Neapolitan, and Venetian pizza. Like cooking, creating the perfect pizza needs a skilled pizzaiolo’s touch to get the best from great ingredients.
As for your other favourite dish, you often make it yourself for the Galleria restaurant.
“It’s our reinterpretation of “pasta a taiano”, or pasta in a saucepan. Here at Galleria, we offer two variations of it: the traditional one, and a modern one. The traditional dish is made with a sauce of mixed pork and veal meat, cooked at a low temperature, which unravels the meat. It is then braised in a very concentrated and fragrant tomato sauce with basil, served with a cream of Pecorino cheese, intended as a fondue, and embellished with crispy pan-fried bread that leaves that pleasant flavour in your mouth. The other variant is more concentrated: we have combined two Sicilian dishes into one, an Arancino made with creamed anelletti pasta and Cefalù sauce, served on Piacentino Ennese cheese, which is also a big source of pride for us Sicilians. This is my favourite dish that we serve here at Galleria because it is very savoury, juicy and crispy at the same time. It is very popular with foreign customers because it is very unusual to have pasta a taiano in an Arancino.