I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A CHEF – WHETHER I’M COOKING FOR FAMILY OR AT A MICHELIN-STARRED RESTAURANT, THERE’S A PASSION INSIDE OF ME
I wanted to be a chef for as long as I can remember. My family has always owned a farm in the North of Italy so I got very close to the food. From the age of 4, I learned how to look after the animals and helped to grow produce – we all did - so we always ate organic food and, as a proper Italian family, lots of good times in my life were spent around a family lunch or dinner. When it was time for me to decide what I wanted to do, at 14 years old, it was more than natural for me to say I wanted to become a chef.
I love so much about this job. It brings me to so many places and, in every situation, I find myself having a new favourite dish. For example, if I’m on holiday with my friends around an open fire, roasting a succulent leg of lamb can be amazing. The interesting thing is that, at a Michelin star restaurant, the level of the dish needs to change but your passion doesn’t change so the passion that you put into roasting that lamb for your friends is exactly the same as the passion you put into cooking all of your food.
ANYBODY CAN TEACH YOU TECHNIQUE BUT ONLY A PASSIONATE CHEF CAN TEACH YOU PASSION
Gordon Ramsay has to be one of my biggest cooking influences because he was the one who nurtured me from being a Commis Chef starting out to the chef I am today. I was about 20 years old when I first met Gordon and I really have to thank him because he didn’t just show me what to do or give me some cooking skills - because anyone can teach you that! - but he taught me the passion; the drive; the will of carrying on and doing what we do, even when you are very tired or even when it gets harder… and then to keep the standards high. They’re very important values for this job and not every single chef can teach you them. Skills-wise, after a certain age you almost self-train and self-develop - that’s what chefs do - but values are very hard to learn because only a very passionate person can transfer the same passions onto you, and he is very passionate.
MY COOKING STYLE: VERY ITALIAN, MEDITERANEAN ORIENTATED FOOD
I love Italian cuisine. It’s so delicious and just makes people feel satisfied. As a Michelin-starred restaurant, of course we want to impress people by taking the dishes to a new level in presentation, the quality of the ingredients and in the flavour intensities but, at the heart, it always comes back to classic flavour combinations and food that’s designed to be shared and enjoyed. All of the dishes at Le George have been designed based on the idea of sharing. It’s what a lot of people enjoy nowadays and I love the idea that people come here with friends or for business but, by sharing food, it’s like they’re sharing a part of their life with someone; sharing the moment. Sharing a dish is informal; it brings people together and creates a friendly atmosphere. That’s what Le George is all about.
I also like my guests to go on a journey and one way we achieve this is by using very firm Italian flavours so that, whenever they eat a risotto or plate of pasta, they have a flavour explosion in their mouth that triggers different feelings and memories in their bodies and makes them travel. Even if they’re sitting right in the center of Paris, in the most amazing restaurant, I want them to be taken away by the dish to a fantasy in the North of Italy.
IT’S AN EXCITING TIME AT LE GEORGE
Le George is only a year old so it’s a very exciting time. Everything about it persuaded me to come here… The hotel was so ambitious, the food and ingredients are the best you can find in the world and the restaurant is just amazing… It’s beautiful and the atmosphere is lovely.
The hotel really put a lot of time, energy and care into designing the restaurant and it’s really paid off. Every single detail was thought about… the flowers, the tables, the carpets and, on top of this, I just love the concept that surrounds the restaurant. Sharing things creates a completely different experience. It means that Le George offers something completely different from the other restaurants in the hotel, which are more formal. Le George has a cool, relaxed, trendy atmosphere but is still elegant and that’s why it works so well. That’s why, when they asked me to come and take over the restaurant, I said yes. It was a very good challenge.
COOKING AT FOR DAVID BECKHAM & SIR ELTON JOHN
When I was in England, I always wanted to cook for David Beckham because I thought he was a tremendous guy and we were invited to cook for a dinner at his house. It was a big charity dinner and we cooked for about 1000 people. The atmosphere was incredible. The second one was quite funny because we cooked for Sir Elton John at his house in London. He was someone I’d always wanted to meet and what was nice was that he was such a nice guy, with a lot of energy. He’s an amazing guy.
FAMILY MEALS IN ITALY
When I was little 4, 5, 6 years old, I remember that 18-20 of us would gather at my grandma’s house. She used to dress a big table, put food in the middle and we would share salads and soups or chicken and roasted duck, whatever she was cooking. I loved how it brought everyone together - sharing moments - and it happens a lot in Italy. As Italians, we place a big importance on food and dinner. We don’t always go to a restaurant because we’re hungry; it’s because we want to have a good time together. All of these things taught me the importance of sharing food and that’s what I’ve tried to bring to Le George.
IF YOU ONLY EAT 1 DISH AT LE GEORGE, IT HAS TO BE…
The onion tarte tatin with Parmesan ice cream. This is something quite special because everybody can create great food with expensive ingredients but to create something amazing out of something very basic like an onion is a fantastic challenge. The sweetness of the onion combined with the crunch of the pastry and the salty cold freshness of the Parmesan ice cream... Just amazing! It really is a perfect combination.
MY FAVOURITE POSITION IN THE KITCHEN
I used to love doing starters. Probably because it’s the position where I used to work the most in London and, when you say starters, you get to make a huge variety of dishes. I worked in quite a lot of French restaurants and this is one of the areas where you can really work on your creativity because you don’t work with important ingredients. For example, when you talk about main courses, you always talk about meat or fish; you always have one ingredient that needs to stand out the most so if you’re cooking sea bass or lamb, you really need to concentrate on them but with starters you can be much more creative because you can just do anything. I really enjoyed it.
MY ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD
Spaghetti pomodoro. It’s so simple but really sums up the meaning of Italian food. The best time to make it is in the summer when the tomatoes are in season and beautiful. There’s a market 5mins away from where I live – a beautiful market – so you can buy little cherry tomatoes from Sicily (South Italy) where they’re so sweet and juicy - they almost taste like honey. You only need 5 ingredients: olive oil, garlic, basil, spaghetti and tomatoes so it’s very easy but, mixed together with magic, they just taste amazing… and you have al denté spaghetti topped with a little bit of parmesan. For me, its just like ‘Wow! Fantastic!’
There’s a very little restaurant called Ida. It’s owned by a friend of mine - an Italian guy called Denny Imbroisi - and there are only 25 seats. Denny’s brilliant. He’s ¾ Italian ¼ French and he makes the most beautiful Italian food. He does the best amatrichiana and his carbonara is mind-blowing. A very funny, very cool guy and the restaurant has a great atmosphere.
Simone Zanoni is the Executive Chef at Michelin-starred Le George restaurant in the Four Seasons George V Hotel, Paris.