True passion has driven Siena’s Executive Chef, Giuseppe “Pino” Napoletano from his home in Southern Italy to work in award-winning and Michelin-starred restaurants in the north and south of Italy, Switzerland, Germany, New York, Bangkok and now Phnom Penh.
With Siena at Flatiron opening soon, last month we gave a brief insight into the often under-appreciated breadth and variety of Italian Cuisine. This month we’re getting personal, and sat down with Siena’s Executive Chef, Giuseppe “Pino” Napoletano, the man who will be bringing you all the rich, wonderful flavours of his homeland. And he’s very passionate about his mission.
That passion has driven a 40-year career that has taken him from his home in Southern Italy to work in award-winning and Michelin-starred restaurants in the north and south of Italy, Switzerland, Germany, New York, Bangkok and now Phnom Penh. His experience has seen him perfect his skills in Italian, French and International cooking styles, but it is the food of Italy that makes Pino’s eyes light up, and you’ll soon be able to taste exactly why that is so.
We were lucky to be able to get him to sit down in fact. Chef Pino’s quest to source and secure the best ingredients possible for the Siena menu has been absorbing an awful lot of his time. But the rewards for this will be abundantly clear. For example, your Risotto will not just be made from the popular arborio rice, but from Riso Carnaroli, the caviar of risotto rices that is highly prized for the dense, creamy risotto it creates. Chef Pino has married this ambrosia with Siena’s house Sausage, Pumpkin, Marinated Herbs, Chestnuts and Black Garlic, and that is just a hint of the divine glories that he has been cooking up, and of how Siena will be a little bit different from Italian restaurants you may have visited before.
“I want to start showing people what Italian cuisine really is. I mean, it’s a subject as vast as French cuisine with very different regions, ingredients and cooking methods all across the country”, he says, adding, “but even though we’re close to France, it’s very different from French cooking. You almost never see cream in Italian cooking, for example, and butter only really in the North”.
Chef Pino may be only one man, but his broad experience brings a lot of range to the table, covering the top and bottom of Italy, but also combining a commitment to traditional principles with an appreciation for the advantages of modern technology. And he’s not to afraid to experiment with the million combinations these sources of knowledge, flavour and technique offer.
“For my cooking style, I take a little bit of the north and a little bit of the south, and sometimes I mix them up. But I like to experiment with techniques too.”
To take one example, for Siena’s Spaghetti di Gragnano alle Vongole, he marries a courgette cream (not dairy cream!) with sun-dried tomatoes to create a rich, sweet earthiness that goes perfectly with the seafood flavours of the clams. Moreover, his selection of Spaghetti di Gragnano elevates the dish even further. Gragnano is a small, hillside town overlooking the Gulf of Naples and is known for producing the best dried pastas in Italy, a reputation that is acknowledged with a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union. Gragnano pastas are celebrated for their chewier texture as well as nuttier flavour which is influenced by the Marino wind blowing in from the Gulf to enrich drying pastas with sea minerals. Another moment of Siena synchronicity.
While Chef Pino is also a traditionalist (we do not recommend telling him if you’re one of the millions of people in the world who make their Spaghetti Carbonara with cream. It makes him grieve), he also loves digging into the essences of the flavours he’s engaging with in order to find their perfect partners, and sometimes that can mean stepping outside of the rules.
One of his tricks is to briefly add a little star anise to his slow-cooked tomato sauces because he has discovered that they share some of the same chemical compounds, and so complement each other perfectly. “It works for chocolate and roasted garlic too!” he adds (in anticipation of your raised eyebrows here, we checked this out and it’s absolutely true, chocolate and garlic do share compounds, and indeed garlic chocolate truffles are a thing…).
This is just a glimpse of the exciting things that Chef Pino is cooking up in his kitchen. There’ll be more to come. Meanwhile, we’re working hard to get Siena ready to open its doors, and Pino continues his unflagging quest to find you the very best ingredients and flavours that Italy has to offer.