Qualia. A-typical sicilian cuisine
The diversity of our cuisine is due to the respect we have for the raw materials we use and our innovative cooking techniques.
The idea for Qualia arose in 2016 thanks to a brave decision: having gained a wide range of experience abroad in some of the best starred restaurants in northern Europe, the desire to return to their homeland of Cefalù was rekindled in a young couple. Having had the opportunity to learn from a completely different milieu, they had become aware of the potential culinary richness of their homeland with its abundance of fresh raw ingredients and this resulted in a project aimed at show-casing a new and very particular type of cuisine.
Organic cooking is one of your strengths: how do you go about finding new sources for your raw ingredients?
We rely on the constant support of small organic producers with whom, over time, we have established a mutually respectful and trusting relationship. Having a direct link to the producer provides us with a guarantee of quality given that organic farming requires a particular kind of diligence when it comes to safety and the genuineness of the produce.
It is undoubtedly time-consuming having to keep finding sources of organic produce because supply is limited. However, the genuineness of the raw materials is the main means of ensuring the quality of the end product.
What differences did you notice in the way products are cultivated and how restaurants in northern Europe are run?
Being exposed to the world of haute-cuisine in northern European cities such as Oslo and Copenhagen underlined the great respect, (an almost maniacal respect), that these culinary cultures have for the sourcing of fresh ingredients. These starred restaurants create a variety of fine dishes with a limited range of raw materials due to reduced availability during several months of the year. In addition to great efficiency when it comes to management, one of the great assets we have here in Cefalù is the daily delivery of fresh produce by suppliers which can sometimes result in increasing difficulties here in flushing out the truly organic small farms.
What does “Qualia” mean and what is the idea behind this project?
“Qualia” are the subjective qualities that every person, in their own individual persona, are able to perceive: every conscious experience has a qualitative sensation that is different from another.
Taste is a sensory experience which differs from one person to another: this is what we want our customers to experience when they have lunch or dinner in our restaurant. Put more simply, “Qualia” means quality and this is what we want to focus on primarily in our work and is what we are obsessed with on a daily basis.
How did the first development phase of the project come about?
The search for the right location was both long and complex! What we were looking for was somewhere that would set us apart from all the other restaurants but also somewhere that would be in keeping with the original concept of diversity and originality in the cuisine that we were proposing to offer.
We found this place by accident after a seemingly endless search and from the first moment that we saw it, we knew that it was the perfect place in which to realise our dream: we visualised it almost exactly as it is now with the exception of a few minor details.
We endeavoured not to completely eradicate the original feeling of the building which had developed over many years: the building was previously an ice factory which supplied the nearby fish market and later became a well-known butcher’s shop in Cefalù. The place already had a charm of its own and it was enough just to make some minor amendments in order to personalise it and give it a new identity as “Qualia.”
“ Our menu lends itself well to satisfying all palates, from the most sophisticated to the more traditional ”
Why is the cuisine at Qualia a-typical?
First and foremost, the diversity of our cuisine is a result of the attention we pay to the sourcing of our raw materials and from the innovative cooking techniques that we have mastered, such as cooking at low temperatures which enables the flavours to escape without being lost.
In addition to this, thanks to the close relationships we have with our local suppliers who guarantee us exceptionally fresh ingredients, we try to put greater emphasis on the use of vegetables, which are often under-estimated. Our cuisine is characterised by specific dishes and by daring combinations which are the result of playing with contrasting temperatures and flavours.
Which dish would you particularly recommend to prospective visitors?
One of the most popular dishes on our menu is octopus with potatoes. This was initially added to the menu on a whim, due to its tremendous popularity. However, the dish we prepare here is very different to the standard version: the traditional chunks of potato are substituted with a potato foam which is syphoned onto the plate. The octopus is cooked at a low temperature and is then seared in a pan and is eventually served with a concentrated tomato sauce which we make ourselves and a sauce of black squids’ ink.
How do you address new food cultures such as vegetarianism or veganism and how is your menu adapted to cater for these different needs?
We harbour a profound respect for every type of culinary choice or preferences for different foodstuffs: embracing a different culinary culture is an expression of one’s manner of being. Our menu lends itself well to satisfying every type of palate ranging from the most sophisticated to the very traditional.
Our love of vegetables and our numerous dishes that are created without either meat or fish make our menu perfect for vegetarian or vegan customers.
And to finish off, can you give us a small preview of this year’s spring / summer menu?
Our new menu includes delicious novel dishes amongst which is our latest creation: a small lasagne with a rabbit ragout “alla cacciatora”, which is served with a pecorino mousse and finished with a drizzle of oil and capers. Or, there is also cappellacci (small pieces of pasta) stuffed with a goat’s cheese ricotta, turnip tops and a velouté of the local Polizzi badda beans.