A newcomer to the culinary scene in Indonesia, Marco Violano has honed his skills in many luxury kitchens around the world. Before moving to Indonesia, the Italian from Puglia was part of the team awarded one Michelin star for both Mio and Cai Yi Xuan restaurants at Four Seasons Hotel Beijing.
Q: How would you describe your style of cooking?
A: For me, cooking is like composing a song, where each note has to complement the others. In this case, the notes are the ingredients, which are brought together to create such diverse and exciting flavours. Although my style of cooking is very traditional, I still try to be mindful to a certain extent of the current trends. Cooking is also like art, where the art of plating plays a big part too.
Q: Being Italian, how big of an influence is your family cooking on your own creations?
A: It influenced me a lot! I was born and raised in the south of Italy, where the heart of the house is the kitchen. As a family, we always hang out in the kitchen, it’s like being born there. The lives of Italians usually revolve around food and the kitchen. I learned how to cook from the women in my life, because my mother and grandmother are prime examples of Italian housewives who prioritise cooking and taking care of the family.
Q: Do you still remember the first time your mother taught you to cook?
A: I do. I was very young and always trying to help my mother in the kitchen during school breaks. Then, when I was 14 years old, I got a job at a pastry shop below our house. I worked there for four to five years and learned a lot. As I grew up, my father wanted me to go to school and into business, but I quit and now have been working in the kitchen for almost 27 years.
Q: You have travelled the world and tasted many different cuisines, what is the most interesting food that you have ever eaten?
A: Personally, my grandmother’s eggplants will always be my favourite food. But when I moved to Malaysia, I discovered the beauty of Southeast Asian cuisine. I also love everything that is raw, like sashimi, because you really get to taste the true flavour of the food.
A: No, because the most beautiful thing that can happen as a chef is to create new dining experiences for guests. I personally believe that as a chef, I have the responsibility to introduce new flavours to my guests. Of course, it can go both ways, where one might like it and another doesn’t. I take that experience and make myself do better as a chef. Being the executive chef means you have a team that is willing to work with you to create something magical. Good teamwork is the key to a happy kitchen.
Q: Who has been your biggest mentor in the culinary world?
A: I would have to say Sergio Mei. He’s a chef at Four Seasons Hotel Milan. He told me that every ingredient has a soul and needs to be respected. He is also very famous in Italy and has written around 12 books.
Q: Indonesia has a bountiful choice of exotic spices and ingredients, is there one specific thing that you have been trying to conquer or use?
A: I would say kaffir lime. The smell of it is very addictive to me.
Q: In your own words, what is the best thing about being a chef?
A: The freedom of creativity in the kitchen. When you are working in the kitchen, there is always excess food that you can turn into something great. For example, we had some extra tofu that we recreated into a delicious dish.
Q: If you had to choose only one dish to have for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: It would still be my grandmother’s eggplants. The dish itself is very simple, she uses leftover eggplants and leftover bread with fresh basil and tomatoes, with raisins on top. Just thinking about it brings me back to my childhood. My grandmother is 98 years old and she still cooks. Whenever she’s cooking, nobody dares to bother her!
Q: Do you have any advice for budding chefs?
A: My advice is to have a good balance between your work and personal life, but when your work life becomes your life then it’s best. And also, never give up and don’t waste your time. Always work with passion, from the heart.
Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta
Jalan Jenderal Gatot Subroto, Kuningan
Jakarta 12710, Indonesia