Five-star Hotels, Continental Diners, Luxury Yachts to F&B Consulting and Live Demonstrations of Italian Food
*By Utkarsha Kesarkar
A veteran chef and freelance F&B consultant, Carlo Maria Ricci’s multi-national body of work sees him waltzing across the European subcontinent in search of gastronomic experiences and serving valuable expertise to restaurant owners. In his ‘spare’ time he is Chef Ambassador of one of Italy’s most exclusive culinary institutes. Nothing to be surprised of from someone who, as a young chef, worked at VIP destinations as L’Andana, Tenuta La Badiola and Trattoria Toscana by Alain Ducasse Group, Heston Blumenthal’s 3 Michelin Star Fat Duck, Gualtiero Marchesi, and a brief period at Tetsuya’s Australia by Tetsuya Wakuda.
He feels that “serving people” is the best part of his profession. By providing good food he aims to spark emotions and transform someone’s day. “Food is a poignant way to communicate with a stranger without speaking a word. I truly believe in the power of food. Can you imagine a world without food? I can’t. For that reason, I remind myself every day to cherish and respect every single ingredient I touch”, he shares.
There is no exact moment of epiphany when he realized his calling to become a professional chef. He was a regular teenager until he developed a persistent drive to cook for close friends and family. “I started cooking when I was 12 or 13. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be able to observe some great home cooks in action who gave me the fundamental understanding of the process; then came practice. Many attempts and many mistakes but, eventually, I got the basics. I must have been doing something right because, without any prior formal training, I landed a few summer jobs. This is precisely when professional cooking came into play, something I did for almost 10 years.”
His journey of professional cooking doesn’t hinge on a definite speciality. When it comes to experimenting with food, he enjoys every possibility that comes his way be it grilling, BBQ or baking to preparing fresh pastas and getting the most out of seasonal vegetables.
“After a period of ill health, I wanted a break from restaurants. I saw an ad on a website advertising jobs for private chefs. An hour after posting my CV I got a call back and a week later I was onboard a yacht in the Mediterranean. It was meant to happen, and it did. That’s simple”.
Preparing multi-cuisine dishes on a sumptuous yacht is not as lavish as it sounds. “Working on yachts is pretty high octane. During the season’s peak it’s not unusual to be working seven days a week for long periods of time. The guests’ profiles are very high as a result their needs and desires are ultra-specific and often times complex. Chefs must have VERY wide repertoires and should be capable of handling all kinds of preparations without stressing. Plus, sometimes, there are also large crews to be fed. Provisioning is a job in itself, so is managing the many professional and personal relationships involved in working on a small floating hotel! Of course, there are also the amazing aspects involved, like the travelling opportunities and the possibility of being in touch with the sea which is a humbling and rewarding experience.”
After spending years on private vessels, he launched himself as an experienced F&B consultant and freelance chef. He travels, cooks and is booked by restaurants for niche projects as designing menus, developing new recipes and pairings. Additionally, he is Chef Ambassador for ALMA, The International School of Italian cuisine. “I perform a very heterogeneous role that sees me working on product development for big companies one day and the other day I am delivering online seminars to the other side of the world. The way food can be narrated as the pivotal point for delivering conversations on sustainability, health and overall wellness really fascinates me so I will be pursuing that in the future. It’s an ambitious project but if one doesn’t try one never knows!”
Italy has remained Ricci’s epicurean muse since he moved to Rome as a five-years-old and lived there till his late teens. Today he travels back and forth to Italy’s Parma region for work as well as leisure. His half-Italian heritage received from his biological father gives him an upper edge in the ever-evolving Food and Beverage industry. “Living in Italy really helps a chef. For Italians food truly is a fundamental part of their personal, familial, regional and national identities; it’s part of who they are and how they express themselves. Furthermore, being from an international family, being exposed to my Australian mother’s and English step father’s culinary traditions allows me to observe Italian cuisine from afar as well, almost with a constantly refreshing curiosity.”
The nomadic gourmand has visited Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore to promote Italian cuisine to Indian students and larger public via events organized by ALMA School and Italian High Commission. In the lockdown he collaborated with the Consulate of Italy in Mumbai and presented a non-stop sixty-minutes food demo at Kala Ghoda Festival 2021. Talking about the experience he tells, “It was a fun project aimed at showcasing one of Italy’s most iconic foods i.e., Parmigiano Reggiano, within the context of seasonality in the heart of the Italian Food Valley. I really like these kinds of events because they allow us to put out the message behind contemporary Italian cuisine.”
Chef Carlo Maria Ricci isn’t shy about his love towards Indian food. “Indian breads absolutely enchant me! From Chapati to Naan to Paratha to Kulcha to Luchi: they are all just wonderful! Also, when I was in India, I had the chance to play with a tandoor oven and couldn’t get enough of it. I’m really fascinated by the deep and intimate understanding Indian chefs and cooks have of spices and their utilization in all kinds of recipes. Plus…I could eat a good biryani accompanied with a million bowls of side vegetables and sauces any day. And masala dosa….mmm….”
Post lockdown, he plans to explore the cuisines of southern regions. “I love when coconut meets big, bold flavors. When I was in Bangalore I attended a conference on coffee and, being a fan, I would love to lose myself in the different coffee regions to explore more of India’s unique approaches to growing coffee and be in sync with this country’s latest coffee scene.”
The culinary pundit is optimistic about India as an ideal location for a thriving Italian restaurant scene. “Indian cuisine has a very good understanding of fresh vegetables and pulses, fundamental aspects of the Mediterranean diet and some regional Italian Cuisines. This provides a wonderful base for any talented Indian cook to start exploring Italian recipes with local products, adapting as per needs and requirements. The addition of a few ingredients, like pasta and various kinds of cheeses for example, will lay the path for a potentially successful approach to customers, who themselves are acquainted with flavors common to both cultures. It must also be said that Italian cuisine, because of its inherent elegance, simplicity and respect for ingredients, wins favor of customers pretty much anywhere you implement it well”.
His predictions on the future of Indo-Italian fusion food are, “It’s hard to tell but I’m sure that somewhere in India there is a young chef who will fall in love with Italy and make it their home. They will bring one of the regional Indian cuisines to Italy, marry different approaches, swap flavours around, play on assonances and rewrite some of the rules and taboos of both cuisines.”
When asked if executive kitchens are open to female chefs, he reveals about meeting many talented ladies in professional kitchen spaces, probably more than other market segments, and all of whom integral parts of every team. “One of my mentors always said that women cook with their heart, which is a wonderful trait to possess in this line of business,” he recollects.
His advice to young chefs wanting to break into 5-star hotels, Michelin Star restaurants and luxury yachts is, “Nothing is hard and nothing is easy. Similarly, everything is hard and everything is easy. This profession is about gifting emotions to customers, giving 100% every time to make sure the food we prepare is served with the utmost respect for ingredients and the people eating them. Five-star restaurants, just like food stalls, do this every day.” Although he is clear that these sought-after experiences are not the ultimate benchmark of how good a chef or cook is.
Chef Carlo Maria Ricci decides to go the extra mile by in fact sharing his secret recipe to prepare oneself for a professional kitchen job and revel in the taste of victory. “Cook every time you can. Cook everything you can get your hands on, even the things you don’t like, until you see their potential and understand why others like them. Cook everywhere you can, from your home kitchen to the outdoors. Cook with anything, from tandoor ovens to microwave ovens. Eat everything, never shying away from a new experience. Source ingredients and learn how to select them. Take interest in farming and animal husbandry. Forage. Source your own food. Read a lot. Watch others cook. Be curious. Immerse yourself in this world fully because food is not learnt just in the kitchen: food is everywhere!”
* I WRITE luxury, culture, interviews, architecture, travel, history, art, hospitality, fine dining, books, music, TV, movies, web series, feminism, LGBTQ, sustainability and climate change. Interviews, research, and inter-personal communication in English with people from diverse cultures & nationalities are my vital strengths.