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Giovanni Papi may be an Italian chef, but he has travelled the world, both professionally as well as for pleasure. Having spent most of his time in Asia, China in particular, where he loves the culture, Giovanni has only one personal motto: to live life in constant search of global aromas and flavours.
And his gastronomic endeavours have led him to Dubai, his current home, where he loves exploring the local culinary traditions and discovering the essence of authentic Arabic food and culture. Most importantly, he’s picked up one or two local culinary secrets which, for obvious reasons, are kept under wraps (pun intended).
Giovanni originally comes from Sardinia, a large Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea, where he kick-started his culinary career as an intern. Fast forward three years of honing his skills in the country, the chef relocated to Cote d’Azur, France, to widen his expertise. He’s also got a few accolades to his name, including a Bronze Medal in the Luxembourg Culinary World Cup at ExpoGast 2014, following which he relocated to the country, and then to Australia and China, respectively. After more professional developments, Giovanni joined Dubai’s highly reputed Armani as Sous Chef Specialty in 2018. Shortly after, in 2020, he bagged the Chef de Cuisine designation at Armani/Ristorante. Throughout his journey as a chef, his beliefs were deeply rooted in discovering the culture and people through food.
His culinary prowess is something we witnessed when we tried a special five-course menu curated by the chef himself at Ristorante, an exquisite fine-dining venue at Burj Khalifa, which was recently awarded one Michelin Star in the coveted guide’s first-ever edition in the city.
We caught up with the chef to know more about his culinary career, his cooking philosophy, and his best and worst ingredients to cook with.
When did you decide to become a chef? What led to it?
My passion for cooking owes much to my grandmothers who passed their own love for the craft to me. As early as seven years old, I remember sitting and watching my grandma cook on a Sunday morning. The kitchen definitely chose me.
What is your signature dish? What do you love about it?
My signature dish is a Green Planet Risotto. It is a fully sustainable dish that has zero food waste. At its heart is a vibrant green pesto crafted from 10 different aromatic seasonal herbs, specially blended to preserve taste, colour and all the nutrients. I cook the risotto with a broth made from excess vegetables and complete using Sicilian red prawns where I use the heads to make an iodised powder, which replaces salt. The tail is freshly marinated with extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, powder and flowers that come from local Dubai farms. I love the natural green colour because it reminds me of a clean, beautifully green planet.
You're an award-winning chef, who’s part of a Michelin Star restaurant. What does that mean to you?
The Michelin Star awarded to Armani/Ristorante represents incredible recognition for me, and for the team, for our years of collective hard work, passion and dedication to our craft. This is an accolade that all chefs, their teams and restaurants aspire to have, and it’s all about believing in your dreams, following them and infusing what you do with love and attention to detail.
Describe the moment when Armani/Ristorante was honoured with the Michelin Star.
I will hold this memory close for the rest of my life. Right up until the announcement, I really didn’t know if we had – or hadn’t – been awarded a Michelin Star. The moment it was announced, it was the most amazing feeling for me and the team: we made it!
Is there a secret family recipe that has been passed down to you? If yes, how often do you make use of it?
I'm originally from Sardinia and I always draw on influences from my origins in every country and kitchen I work in. Rather than a secret family recipe, the secret ingredient that my grandmother passed down to me is respect, for the food, and for the people. We deliver emotions through our food.
Describe your cooking philosophy.
My cooking philosophy is simple: zero waste food using seasonal ingredients to create new unique flavours and presentations.
As an Italian chef, how has your experience been so far dealing with the crowd here in Dubai?
My experience here in Dubai has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive. The hospitality industry in the UAE is extremely varied and well-established. I love that I work with colleagues from so many different countries and culinary backgrounds, and enjoy being able to share opinions, ideas and feedback. This is how we grow and how we improve every single day. The Armani/Ristorante kitchen is an international community.
What is that one ingredient you never use?
In my cooking I never use chili or spicy ingredients.
What is that one ingredient you love to use?
I love to use aromatic herbs from the Mediterranean, and extra virgin olive oil. They remind me of home.
What would you say to other aspiring chefs?
To the aspiring chefs I would remind them that our job is all about dedication and sacrifice – as well as passion – and that it is important to always believe in your dreams.
Looking back, would you change anything about your journey as a chef?
My career path, to date, has been an exciting and challenging learning journey that I wouldn’t change. I’ve always thrown my heart and soul into being a chef, with no shortcuts and always following my instincts – and my heart.
The venue has all things luxurious, especially its high ceilings, marble flooring, and a glass-fronted open kitchen for the diners to see the chefs at work. The cuisine is mostly Italian but modernised to present rich dishes full of colour, flavour, and style for all your Instagram highlights. And while we tried many specialties in starters, main-course and desserts, including the Foei Gras, Riso E Gamberi Rossi, Cacio & Pepe, and Armani Tiramisu, all prepared by Chef Giovanni, our personal recommendation is from the seafood category - Dentice Mediterraneo. It is a pan seared Mediterranean snapper with marinated zucchini, taggiasca olives, and tomato and strawberry broth. The distinctive taste paired with the crisp element of the snapper was the highlight of our culinary experience.
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