Ital­ian Mae­stro

Maxx-M - - PROFILE - Pho­to­scour­tesyof In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Jakarta MidPlaza

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.

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