A tireless workaholic. To cook means reading beyond a recipe: it is a question of sensitivity, respect for ingredients and for times of preparation. We meet chef Salvatore Sanfilippo and his culinary art.
by Anna Chiara Delle Donne
Welcome Salvo. Tell me about you…
I consider myself a frank and determined person, I like to focus on my goals and to work hard to achieve them. I’m a tireless workaholic. In the kitchen I am meticulous and I take care of every detail almost obsessively. I am convinced that quality always pays and, in a time when everything has been invented, even the simplest detail helps to distinguish the style of one chef from another. Ever since I was a child I’ve been in love with this profession. When I went shopping with my parents, once I got to the cashier instead of getting bored, I had fun spying on other people in the shopping bag and I had fun imagining what they could cook with the ingredients they were about to buy. It still happens today!
Talking about your career path, tell us about your work experiences.
After graduating from the hotel school in Nembro, my career began in the kitchens of a nursing home in my country. In “Casa Serena” there were two chefs trained in the prestigious 3 stars Michelin restaurant “Da Vittorio” in Brusaporto. Between one soup and another they were the ones to wean me. They made me understand how many sacrifices and dedication this trade entailed. Working hard and with commitment, but above all with passion, I was able to gradually fit into high-level restaurants. I remember the “Vigneto” a restaurant in Capriate, “Il Pianone” in Bergamo Alta, “Da Vittorio” in Brusaporto and the hotel “Palazzo Parigi” in Milano where I had the great honor of approaching chef as Cracco and Niko Romito. In 2013 I decided to settle permanently in Switzerland, in Bellinzona, where I still live. After several experiences in the Canton Ticino, from January 2018 I’m chefs of the restaurant “Zoccolino” in Bellinzona.
How did your passion for cooking come about?
My passion was born when I was a child. My mother, thanks to her creations, made me fall in love with the most beautiful job in the world. Being a family of Sicilian origins, it has been customary to gather around tables laden with every kind of food and to share moments of conviviality and joy. Even today, when I’m at the stove to prepare the ragù, I think when I woke up on Sunday with the smell of fried and I ran to the kitchen to admire my mother that prepared the arancine. I believe that today, for a chef, having firm roots helps to better express his culinary style, taking inspiration from every different facet that our gastronomic tradition has to offer us and combining recipes and ingredients from different territories, gives us the possibility of developing something absolutely personal allowing us to create a veritable edible biography.
How would you define your culinary style?
I could define my kitchen as fun. I really like playing with tradition, trying to present it in a modern way, applying innovative techniques to make the most of the raw material. Respect for the ingredient is everything! In the kitchen, you should use high quality products, just so you can differentiate your style. My goal is to create a “beautiful and good” cooking food. Today, in my opinion, there are proposals in some cases too forced with combinations of very bold ingredients. It’s true, you can’t please everyone, but I think that sometimes the customer is more satisfied with a simple kitchen instead of an “extra-sensory” experience that some restaurants want to offer.
What does Switzerland offer you on the job?
It’s a fortunate to work in a country like Switzerland, especially in the Canton of Ticino. From the beginning I felt adopted. During my journey I was lucky to meet people who were able to appreciate me for what I was doing, making me feel at home, affectively and professionally. Here, after all, the traditions are not so different from Italy and the few products are best valued with the preparations they possess. The costumers of the restaurant where I work are proving to be very keen on the innovation process that we are proposing.
What are the dishes you propose?
At the restaurant Zoccolino we propose two tasting courses: meat and fish. The menu is not huge because my idea is to follow the seasonality of the products, so it varies monthly. As I said before, a proposal closely linked to what is the Ticino food and wine tradition, but with a personal creative flair. In this moment you can find: “Risotto with saffron and marrow pistils, merlot reduction and Ticino liver mortadella crumble”, “Swiss beef with citrus fruits, caramelized onion, egg rind, hazelnut gel and cheese blue cheese”,”Tagliatelle with Ticinese luganeghetta ragù and Bronte pistachio”. We are particularly attentive to various trends and pay particular attention to vegetarian and vegan customers. A proposal is “Absolute of sparagus, Dutch of yellow carrots, almond cream and Macadamia nuts”.
Salvatore, what are the aspects of your cooking that you want to learn more about?
I like pastry, even though I think it’s a completely independent profession. In fact, it’s a common to say “a chef can become a pastry chef, but a pastry chef never will be a cook”. In the last period I am concentrating on a project that will see the start of the production and then the trade of “soft chocolate cupcakes”, the classic chocolate soufflé. A recipe of my own, developed over the years and that, thanks to experiments, tests and positive appreciation from friends and customers, has prompted me to embark on this new adventure.