InterContinental Jakarta MidPlaza welcomed new Executive Chef Gianluca Visciglia earlier this year. Umesh Bhagchandani caught up with the laid-back kitchen wizard to talk about his culinary background and
his new menus.
How did you get started?
To be honest, it’s not something that I chose; it chose me. When I was a little kid, I would watch my father cook every Sunday, and slowly from there I began to fall in love with the idea of cooking. My father pushed me to pursue a career as a chef, and I eventually enrolled in culinary school in Florence, Italy and stayed there for three years. The city is the inspiration for my fascination with Tuscany cuisine, which I believe is the hub for all Italian food.
Is there a side of Italian cuisine that most people don’t know about?
Italian cuisine is one of the most diverse and richest cuisines in the world, so to pick just one aspect is not easy. However, the myth that every Italian dish uses olive oil is not true. Take my hillside hometown for example, Merate, where it is impossible to grow olives. Instead, we use butter or lard (fat from pigs or ducks) for our everyday cooking.
You have had quite an overseas adventure, from Jakarta to Oman to the Philippines and back again. How have you found the experience?
Being a chef is not limited to cooking dishes you are familiar with and my overseas experience has shown me that. I have learned how to make different dishes from different cuisines with different kinds of flavours. I have also learned that the easiest way to learn about a culture is from the way they eat. With food, it is possible to know who your clients are, where they come from and how to deliver what they like. If you dig a bit deeper, you will learn why a certain culture cooks the way they do. For example, farmers in Italy eat slightly crisp dishes since they used slow-burning ovens to cook. Or how rich the Spanish influence is in the Philippines, evident from the myriad seafood dishes.
How does Indonesia differ from other countries?
Indonesia has always been different for me because I connected well with the country from the beginning. I visited Jakarta over a decade ago and being back now and witnessing the growth the city has gone through is exciting! However, the changes happening to the city have not changed the people; I still find them deeply rooted to their culture, which is a complete opposite to Italy and one of the reasons I love Indonesia.
Can you share with us your plan to revitalize the InterContinental menus?
I want to understand what InterContinental’s visitors want and deliver it to them. I have prepared new menus that will be a nice surprise to our loyal customers, such as Crab Spaghetti and Chestnut Cappuccino Soup. However, there are a certain things that I want to keep intact, specifically the Italian roots in my cooking. I don’t want to go too far and mix things up and end up creating peculiar dishes. My aim is to give visitors real, authentic Italian cuisine that they will remember forever.
Speaking of Italian, what are your thoughts on the rapid growth of Italian restaurants in the city?
On one hand, I am glad Indonesians have been very receptive and curious about my home cuisine; that makes me happy. On the other hand, I am not very keen about the false advertising that has been going around. However, I believe that in the end the decision lies with the people and they know when food is authentic or not. It’s not wrong, of course, to infuse certain flavours into Italian cuisine and try to make it new, but I believe that’s not how it should be done.
Share with us one Italian dish that you think would be a hit with Indonesians?
I think the flat ribbon pasta Pizzoccheri would be a tongue pleaser with its simple ingredients of cheese, cabbage, potatoes and garlic.
In your eighteen years as a chef, what has been your proudest moment?
I have had many good experiences that I am grateful for. However, one moment does stand out, from when I was in the Philippines from 2010 to 2012. I got the opportunity to set up an Italian restaurant from scratch. The experience was amazing because I could assemble my own team, who were my schoolmates, to fly down there and working alongside them was so special to me. Together, in a period of one year with a team of six, we managed to become one of the top ten restaurants in the country.