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The brand behind Il Ristorante – Niko Romito is the namesake 3 Michelin star chef himself. Let’s take a look at what it takes to be ‘simple in the world of luxury’

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Rhonita Patnaik

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Published: Mon 26 Dec 2022, 10:29 AM

Can you tell us about the concept of your restaurant Il Ristorante - Niko Romito in Dubai? How would you describe the place?

Il Ristorante – Niko Romito offers an authentic Italian experience, in the extremely elegant, but still relaxed and natural, luxury of Bulgari Hotel & Resort. For this collaboration with Bulgari, I defined my idea of Italian contemporary cuisine, trying to express the richness of our gastronomic tradition as seen through the lenses of my cooking philosophy. We elaborated a menu bringing together the most iconic dishes and the little-known regional specialties of Italy, updated by the use of innovative cooking techniques to enhance the taste and the flavours of each single ingredient. It was a challenge to bring my idea of simplicity in the world of luxury, especially in a city like Dubai, but we succeeded. Recently, two guests told me that they come here at least once a week, because it is one of the few restaurants in the city truly focused on the gastronomic content and not on the 'show'.

How do you see the Italian cuisine evolving in a metropolitan such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

When we opened Il Ristorante – Niko Romito in Bulgari Hotel & Resort Dubai in 2017, most of the guests didn’t really appreciate our cuisine, they couldn’t understand our concept and our philosophy because they were used to those Italian sounding dishes that are not Italian at all. All they wanted was burrata and we didn’t have it on the menu, so they didn’t recognise our authenticity. But we didn’t give up. It was not just a matter of explaining our dishes, we wanted to transmit the true Italian gastronomic culture. Our effort has been acknowledged and today, we can see that guests have a greater knowledge about Italian cuisine. This demand has led to a great improvement also in the quality of the products imported from Italy. I think that the presence of Michelin Guide also marks an important change in Dubai’s fine-dining scene, which is already evolving very fast.

You are a self-taught chef from Abruzzo. What is your style of cooking? What inspired you to take up this profession?

I was studying Economics at the university when my father suddenly passed away and, together with my sister Cristiana, we took over the family restaurant. I didn’t have any experience nor a particular knowledge, but I quickly discovered a deep passion for cooking. The idea of transforming raw material fascinated me, I was driven by an insatiable curiosity, and I still am today: you never stop learning in a kitchen.

My cuisine is based on intense research on the raw materials and those transformation techniques that allow me to explore their taste and structure. The dishes I serve at Reale Restaurant (Three Michelin Star Restaurant in Castel di Sangro, Abruzzo) are essentials; they look simple, but they hide a significant complexity. I always look for purity, that I consider as the extreme synthesis of taste. It is the most difficult thing to achieve, you have to know exactly what you want and get rid of what is unnecessary. In each of my dishes, I focus on very few ingredients, often just one, but I use a variety of cooking techniques to obtain different preparations, different layers that I put one on the top of the other. In this way, the ingredient is magnified, its taste gets very intense and complex. Thanks to their creativity and technical skills, chefs can transform simple into something extraordinary. This year, I decided to dedicate the tasting to vegetables, because they’ve always represented the most interesting challenge for me. Cooking vegetables requires an extreme precision and creative effort, but they can reveal an unexpected complexity of flavours and textures.

Il Ristorante - Niko Romito was awarded two Michelin stars by The Michelin Guide Dubai 2022. As 3 Michelin star chef, do you find keeping up with expectations a pressure or a pleasure?

Two Michelin stars is an extremely important acknowledgement of our work and the vision we’ve been carrying on in Dubai since 2017. It’s definitely a pleasure but also a great responsibility, you have to enforce your efforts to keep always improving. But you don’t have to think about people expectations, which could influence your work and bring you in a wrong direction. You have to stay focused on your ideas, and never lose your essence.

The Food Sustainable Movement has generated a lot of interest and takers today? Are you also a Sustainabilist?

I believe that the new culture of food should be based on “healthiness, sustainability and circularity”. I choose sustainable products — even if there’s limited local products I can use in Dubai - and the transformation techniques I use, lead me naturally to create healthy dishes. Besides that, my biggest engagement for sustainability today is education: we need to form the new actors of the food revolution. Since 2013, I have a Vocational Culinary Academy in Abruzzo and I’m now creating a Campus, a research and development centre focused on collective catering and food industry. I think that, if we want to change the system, the good practices in a fine-dining restaurant are not enough, we have to rethink the whole industry and to do that, we need new knowledges and new synergies.

Can you recommend a few dishes at Il Ristorante - Niko Romito?

I always suggest to try the 'Antipasto All’Italiana', a grand tour of Italy through a selection of regional specialties from the whole country. It allows the guests to discover a variety of treasure of our gastronomic heritage, ranging from Piedmont’s Vitello Tonnato to Napoli’s Frittatine di pasta. It’s meant to be shared, so it also represents our idea of conviviality.

On the menu there are a few classics that you can find all over the year, like 'Spaghetti e pomodoro' (Spaghetti and tomato) or 'Risotto alla Milanese' (Risotto Milanese Style), and seasonal dishes, with handmade pasta, many vegetable dishes, but also some interesting fish or meat Italian specialties.

— rhonita@khaleejtimes.com


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