The chef from Caserta of the Belvedere restaurant of Caruso a Belmond hotel in Ravello talks about his new editorial project and his cuisine.
By Anna Volpicelli
His enthusiasm is perceivable from the way he talks: fast, precise, and full of ironic tones. Mimmo di Raffaele, the executive-chef of Caruso a Belmond Hotel’s Belvedere Restaurant in Ravello, is one of the innovators of the local cuisine. The chef perfectly blends tradition with creativity and experimentation.
His experience in a book
Sitting comfortably in suite 62 of the luxury hotel, illuminated by the light that filters through large windows that frame the panorama between seas and mountains that has always enchanted tourists and residents, the chef reveals, with a hint of pride, his latest editorial project. “Pazziamm’ja” ( which means let’s play – Officine Zephiro Editore) is a recipe book about the Amalfi Coast and Campania. “It is the expression and the fruit of the experience I had in the last 15 years inside and outside the hotel kitchen. The pages include the dishes that I invented and created, those taken from the gastronomic tradition of the coast, lightened, modified, and cheered up because I think that the common thread that binds the professional path and life, in general, is irony”.
Mimmo di Raffaele during a presentation of now of his dishes, photo by Tyson Sadlo, courtesy of Caruso a Belmond Hotel
The art of communicating
His sense of humor is well-communicated in the choice of the title. “Pazziamm’ja is a typical Neapolitan saying that I always use to tone down a conversation that is taking on intense nuances. I use it to play down a situation, to bring the atmosphere to a more neutral and playful level. A genuine strategy to close a conversation, laughing about it. It has now become a sort of motto that the 130 hotel employees have adopted.”
Born in Caserta, the chef, after realizing that the law studies did not reflect his essence, decided to follow his true vocation and continue his education at L’Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne ( Switzerland). His eureka moment, however, arrived when he completed his education in an inter-season internship in the 3-star Michelin restaurant of the Hotel de Ville de Crissier under the guidance of acclaimed chef Fredy Girardet, “I saw him as a god. He questioned everything that passed into his hands. After a 12-hour day of work, we would spend the evenings, until 2 am, in the kitchen sketching on the blackboard new dishes that could be built using a root he had found in the mountains. I felt like I was listening to a poet. This for me was the real initiation into the profession, what I call my year zero”, he confesses, laughing. An experience that led him to the kitchens of national restaurants, including the Marino Alla Scala restaurant in Milan, owned by the stylist Nicola Trussardi, and to become the sous-chef in the restaurant of the Hotel Eden in Rome, under the direction of Enrico Derflingher, Queen Elizabeth’s former personal chef.
Spaghetti Ravello, foto by Joee Wong, courtesy of Caruso a Belmond Hotel
The territory’s flavor
“My cuisine – he explains – has a solid territorial value. In Milan, I brought Milanese recipes to my plate, and in Rome, the Roman ones. And it is the same approach that since 2007 when I arrived at the Hotel Caruso, I have followed and pursued on the Amalfi Coast “. Here, therefore, the Sfusato Amalfitano, which the chef defines as the diamond of the Divine, in his hands, is mixed with pecorino romano, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil to turn into a creamy and delicate pesto used to garnish the main courses. Cobarì, Corbarello, and those of the Lattari Mountains blend to give life to the famous Spaghetti Ravello, one of the most popular first courses. “It is an iconic spaghetti because it represents the whole territory and to which I am very attached. I always tell my cooks not to underestimate the preparation of this recipe because people in New York and Tokyo can make excellent spaghetti with tomato sauce, but ours must be the best. It must have a unique flavor. It must tell the story of our land”.
Street food inspiration
And it is the land, or rather the road, the chef’s primary source of inspiration. “I am pleasantly intrigued by street food, which I happen to taste when I stop at one of the street vendors while I am out and about with my motorbike or bicycle, or with my Vespa. Just outside Caserta, there is a gentleman who prepares one of the best cuoppi I have ever tasted for years. I always go there with my daughter Veronica. Everything that I taste and that captures my curiosity, I try to bring it back, modify it and make it mine, in my dishes “.
A dinner surrounded by the beauty of the sea and the mountains, foto by Helen Cathcart, courtesy of Caruso a Belmond Hotel
The 2021 season
From May 27, the opening day of Caruso a Belmond Hotel and the Belvedere Restaurant, the culinary canvas will be storytelling of flavor that will include tastes of land and sea. “Journey of coasts and rocks, the shipwreck of love, Belvedere of food and passion” is the title of the a la carte menu and will include, in addition to first courses, second courses, side dishes, and desserts, also a tasting itinerary consisting of six samples of the chef’s signature dishes. These include spring in the garden, a selection of small seasonal vegetables, Ravello Vicidomini spaghetti, a fillet of pezzogna with Acqua pazza, and many others. “This year, more than others, the focus will be on the gastronomic tradition of the area, with my reinterpretations. There will be experiences, which see me directly involved in the presentation and narration of recipes, such as those of the chef table and the Krug table. Both, as always, will be characterized by a personalized path “.
The formula of a great chef
Arranged in the garden, on an intimate terrace, the Krug table offers a journey of the senses. The taste, smell, and tact are combined with the landscape view and the silence that comes from the quiet of the sea and the mountains. The 2021 season also offers a novelty: experiential cuisine. It is a place of sharing and conviviality where you can interact directly with the chef and draw on his knowledge. “I think that the great chef is not seen in the manipulation of the rich ingredient, but in his ability to work with simple ingredients. I believe that the primary ingredients in the kitchen are salt and oil, then the rest is added”. And in this refined simplicity, hides the essence of Mimmo di Raffaele’s cuisine.