Dynamic, forward-thinker, enthusiast and committed to thrive with an exceptional attention to details. Now that the Covid-19 outbreak is changing our culinary habits and daily routines, Frozen Art Chef speaks to Massimo Pasquarelli, Executive Chef at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore.
How did your passion for cooking start?
When I was 10 years, I lost my voice and while I was forced to stay home for a long time, I started watching French cooking movies on the TV. The French Chef’s Power impressed me. The cooking habits of my Italian family were incredibly far from it. I grew up in a mountain village and although I had a great childhood surrounded by the loving care of family and friends, I felt that I was confined and restricted considering the life I dreamt of. I decided to attend a hospitality school in my region. After three difficult years, one month before the final exam, I decided to quit for lack of interest on what I was learning. Moreover, I didn’t feel respected by the teachers. I wanted to make a difference in the culinary world to prove them wrong: to do so, I needed to find the right Mentors.
At the beginning my family didn’t understand, but I had the chance to start an internship at San Domenico Restaurant (2 Michelin Star, Imola, Italy). In two years, Chef Valentino Marcantilli made my passion explode. He initiated me both professionally and on a human level. I wanted to learn cooking in France, so after meeting in Imola Georges Pellissier, Executive Chef at Hilton Cannes (French Riviera), I joined him.
“Work with who is better than you until you know better than him, then become the best”, my grandpa used to say. Later, I headed to Harry’s Bar (Venice, Italy). Arrigo Cipriani taught me the importance of learning languages, so he connected me with the Cecconi’s Restaurant in London and I moved there for one year. I returned Italy to do my military service. I wanted to be a parachutist, but at the end, I served as the personal chef to the Brigadier General of the Italian Armed Forces. I liked the experience of giving instructions, and I restarted my journey. Venice, London, Rome, where I worked at the Terrazza dell’Eden Restaurant (1 Michelin Star) with Enrico Derflingher. Known to be Lady Diana’s Cook for years, he taught me how big is the power of media.
Your first three mentors have been Valentino Marcantilli, Arrigo Cipriani and Enrico Derflingher. Which other Chefs inspired you over the years?
At the end of 1998, I received a call from Le Cirque restaurant (New York City, USA), Sirio Maccioni became my forth Mentor, he was the best host, a master on customer engagement, he made felt special every single guest that was going to experience his restaurant. Le Cirque was the place to see and to be seen at that moment. If you have a dream, in New York it will come true. After one and a half years, Le Cirque spoiled me with a great proposal but once again my goal was more ambitious. I wanted to work in France for a Top Chef. Mr Maccioni gave me the opportunity to connect with Alain Ducasse, who become my fifth Mentor. I started again from scratch. In 2000, I was assigned to Hotel Plaza Athenée (Paris). I was used to NYC’s positivity and I went through six very tough months. When you decide to work at 3 Michelin Star Restaurants, you must empty your head from whatever you have learned in the past and reset from zero to adapt to the culinary philosophy of your new Chef . I was working from 6am to 1am in the night; the salary was so low that I had to do extra work for catering companies during my days off in order to pay the rent. I was about to give up when Ducasse moved me to restaurant than I always wanted to work for Le Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris (Montecarlo). Just the sun, as opposed as the fog of Paris, pulled my energy back. Two years later I was asked to go to NYC as sous chef at Mix, in 2003 I was sent to London, then in Australia. In 2004, I was asked to go to Tokyo for the opening of Beige, the Chanel’s restaurant. Japan fascinated me. In 2005, Chef Ducasse assigned me to the opening of the Benoit restaurant (Tokyo first, then Osaka), he told me that at that point, he was sure that I would not have left Japan as a “single man”. I told him that it was not my intention, but he was right. I met my wife in Tokyo in 2007, she is called Akira and we have got three children now.
In 2008, when the Michelin Guide took its first step in Japan, you had just opened Benoit Tokyo, and got One Michelin Star.
We were gripped by culinary fever! Getting the Star represented a strong satisfaction, I was overwhelmed, especially because I got it while working in the Ducasse Group and being Italian. My fellow colleagues know what I mean. It is an important recognition of talent, hard work and professionalism, it gives you great marketing opportunities. But again, once achieved this goal, I decided that it was time to change and go ahead. I was ready for a bigger challenge, I wanted to start Hotel’s Management.
Before heading to Shangri-la’s Aberdeen Marina Club (Hong Kong), I helped Ducasse at the Jules Verne Tour Eiffel (Paris) and at Bar Bœuf & Co (Montecarlo, Monaco). At the Aberdeen Marina Club, I had the honour to be in direct contact with the Kuok’s family. Robert Kuok is exceptional; he made me discover the opportunities that Asia offers to the ones that are willing to succeed. On September 2012 the Shangri- La Group proposed me to move to the new Shangri-la in Tokyo and I was almost ready to sign when I received a call from Peter Mainguy, General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore. His innovative vision and engaging positive attitude persuaded me to visit Singapore. I accepted his proposal but I remember that I drank a glass of wine before informing the CEO of Shangri-La that I would have leftthe company. It has been one of my hardest decision because I didn’t want to disappoint the Kuok’s family.
You married a Japanese lady in 2008 and seven years passed since you moved to Singapore. Do you call Asia “home”?
Yes, the Asian working culture, the respect and the kindness of the people perfectly match with my ideals. In Japan I learnt the meaning of “reflection”. You cannot persuade a group of people to do what you want in a few seconds. You have to create a plan, explain it and start with the execution. In China, Hong Kong and Singapore, I acknowledged the importance of “business sense”. Everything you do or decide, it must have a return on investment (eg. It does not make sense to launch a promotion for the good sake of it or because you “chef” like it). Let me add that working with Peter Mainguy, whom I consider my latest Mentor, makes a big difference. A good leader is a blessing, especially when he’s genuine. This Canadian-born strong leader represents my model of Hotel’s Management. His trustworthy attitude surprises me every day, he has got an outstanding ability in delegating and making things happen at their best. I’m at Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore because of him. We have renewed together Summer Pavilion, our Chinese Restaurant (1 Michelin Star), Colony, Chihuly Lounge… Our team achieved so many goals that Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore became the benchmark of Marriott International. In these changing times, we are creating new parameters of exclusivity and food security. We are pushing our boundaries and moving forward to a renovated hospitality’s consciousness. Our buffet and menu proposals have to be better than usual. You cannot find certain products on the market in these days. Others cannot be imported. What can you do? Just experiment new recipes and combinations of flavours. We have this opportunity to rediscover and put in the spotlight local products and recipes (ask your parents and Grandparents) as well as seasonal veggies and fruit. People deserve special moments. We look forward to deliver them in extraordinary safe and creative new experiences.
You are the brain behind ‘SuperBrunch’, The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore’s bi-annual vintage champagne brunch extravaganza. How to become a world-class Executive Chef?
First, you have to love people. Only if your interest is sincere, you’ll be able to understand different cultures and anticipate your client’s needs. The more you travel, the less you feel you know, but then you’ll certainly make better choices. For instance, I like interpreting life in a French way now, means more risk-taker rather than been conservative.
Your personal message to young chefs?
Share daily emotions with your team members. Being present and accessible is a sign that others can count on you. Work hard, follow your passion and find your unique way to make a difference. A good career is like a good recipe. You must recognise each ingredient, and the correct balancing of them. Then, you can add a personal touch and enjoy it with the people you care! Stay hungry and be patient. Becoming good chefs requires time, calm, dedication, study and strong social skills. At the end, it will be the best job ever.
At Ritz-Carlton Millenia you make gelato and sorbets on-the-spot. Which is your relationship with the Frozen Art?
My family is Italian, I grew up in a mountain village. I still remember the huge snowfall in 1980… My grandma used to fill in a cup with the snow accumulated on our balcony. She would add her cow’s fresh milk (foam included), a spoon of sugar and… here’s my first approach to gelato, kind of granita. When I was a child, real gelato was a luxury. We could only enjoy it during summertime. I learnt how to make gelatos and sorbets in Imola (Bologna), at San Domenico Restaurant. Chef Valentino had the historical gelatiera Carpigiani.
At Benoit Tokyo and at Shangri-la Hong Kong we had a dedicated room to make ice cream, gelatos and sorbets.
I’m working to have one at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore soon. Meanwhile, I proudly started an artisanal gelato production three years ago. I got a Carpigiani machine because I needed to produce big amounts of gelatos and sorbets for banquets and events. We produce accordingly to the local taste, follow our customers’ requests and preferences.
Which gelato flavours do your customers ask for?
In the morning we propose a selection of yoghurt gelatos. Among sorbets, raspberry and passion banana are very popular, as well as pandan, cookies and chocolate gelatos.
I reduced the sugar in my recipes, Asians prefer the dessert to be less sweet. Yes, American ice cream is quite popular here, and it’s indeed very sweet. Before starting an artisanal production, we offered it too. But as soon as we proposed and communicated the genuine and healthy touch of our new gelatos and sorbets, all of our clients showed a big appreciation. Three years ago, during my SuperBrunch, we selected the “bazaar” theme. The Taiwan stall proposed a special popiah made with rice sheets, caramelised hazelnut grains, coriander and Yam gelato. Our clients loved it, so we had to add it to our menu. I also like to work “in contrast” with gastronomic gelato. Ever tried Lobster and Mango gelato? The effect will be surprising! If you add basil gelato to a tomato soup, the Hot&Cold contrast will create a unique effect. Caviar and lemon gelato are a sensational match.
In 2013, I participated in the international contest “Gelato on the Plate” by creating a Spinosini pasta with Fabbri sour cherries in a turban of potato and parmesan gelato, chopped Parma Ham on Pistachio Cream and Thyme Flowers. Read the full recipe here and try it in your kitchen!
Will the new culinary trends be frozen?
Let me step back. As a Chef, while creating a menu you cannot repeat the ingredients and you have to include all the temperatures: hot, cold and warm. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, the royal European banquets already featured creative fruit sorbets, veggie and flower-based gelatos.
In Japan, gelato is a trend. Not only Mochi are delicious, Japanese chefs are attentive, scrupulous and creative. When you enter a gelato shop, you can always have a new experience. Traditionally, in China and in South East Asia hot food has always been more popular: people believe that it warms you up and it’s beneficial for the body much more than cold food. On the other side, millennials love the dry ice effect, and “freezing” has always been trendy, not only at the end of a meal. Ever tried Raspberries macerated in wine? Put them in the freezer for two hours and you’ll experience a pleasant treat. In one of the Alain Ducasse Restaurant we taught to give an extra touch to Ceviche using an iced base bowl with fragrant water.
If you have cream-based condiments (e.g. the Caesar dressing) and you are in a tropical country (or in summertime, hot temperatures!), try to ice-creamed and serve them in this way. As Chef you can have all the recipes in the world, but when you travel, you have to adapt them to the locale palate.
One curiosity. I always wondered why in Europe and USA people go nuts for fried gelatos at Chinese Restaurants and in Asia you don’t find them anywhere. Frozen Art Chef readers, do you know how it happens?
Your culinary wish?
Food safety is the keyword. I hope that hygiene procedures will become stronger in the hospitality industry.
Well, I hope that we will be able to develop a quality catering evolution, and that a minimum investment and commitment will be mandatory for everybody.
Chefs will be required to develop a greater knowledge on this matter.