Last fall, a passionate young chef from Italy received the opportunity of a lifetime: being appointed chef de cuisine of Grissini, one of Hong Kong’s legendary Italian cuisine restaurants. At just 25 years of age Alessandro Cozzolino dove into what has become his biggest adventure yet.
Grissini, located at the Grand Hyatt, has been open for more than 20 years and offers guests stunning views of Victoria Harbour and a chance to taste both traditional and innovative Italian dishes. Cozzolino’s experience working with Michelin-starred chefs in Italy has translated into an exciting menu highlighting the best flavors of the Mediterranean.
The chef hails from the Southern Italian city of Caserta, the hometown of buffalo mozzarella, which inspires his cooking. Naturally, buffalo mozzarella and other products - such as buffalo butter and buffalo ricotta - are prominent ingredients on the menu at Grissini. His mouthwatering dishes include homemade potato gnocchi dressed in Campania buffalo ricotta cheese with Amalfi lemon, Calabrian walnuts and Sicilian air-dried mullet roe and homemade tortelli with fresh buffalo ricotta cheese, veal ragout and an Italian beer reduction.
So how does an Italian chef pay homage to the Mediterranean in Hong Kong? What role, if any, do local products play in his cooking? Cozzolino opened up to Fine Dining Lovers about this experience working abroad and here is what had to say:
You have been the chef de cuisine of Grissini Restaurant at Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, since November. What are the main characteristics of your cuisine there?
Grissini is a traditional restaurant that has been around as long as Grand Hyatt Hong Kong since 1989; but the restaurant welcomes innovation. You can enjoy a very traditional Italian dish or a slightly reinterpreted dish that utilizes special Italian products.
How do you choose the ingredients you need for your menu?
Here in Hong Kong it is very different from Europe as I am very selective and particular about ingredients. I spend a lot of time trying to source the best produce from Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, which inspires me to create unique dishes. All with great respect for my traditions and origins, of course.
Which new flavours have you discovered in Hong Kong? How have they influenced your cuisine?
My philosophy is Mediterranean, and I can’t change my philosophy or my tastes. I like so many things in Asia but, as I said, I don’t use local products in my kitchen. Even the sea salt is Italian.
What is the best cooking advice you have ever received from a chef you worked with?
Every chef with whom I worked taught me about the importance of natural produce. Each product is different and must be interpreted and worked with in the best possible way. For me, there is no better advice. I like everything from coal to the grill, from confit to olive oil, from cooking with steam to cooking with low temperatures in a vacuum.
You come from Caserta, Campania in Italy. What have you brought with you from your homeland? Have you incorporated any of it into your current menu?
Caserta is the hometown of buffalo mozzarella, and all products containing buffalo milk. Currently every night in Grissini there is a cheese trolley, and most of the products use buffalo milk. I also often use in my dishes smoked buffalo mozzarella, buffalo butter, buffalo ricotta, buffalo burrata, etc.
What is your earliest food memory? Which flavours from your childhood can you not live without?
I do not have any chefs in my family, but all members of my family are big foodies. In my family, especially with my mother and grandmother, there is a big passion for food. I have so many flavours from childhood. From my mother’s ‘pasta e patate' to my grandmother’s homemade gnocchi, and simple pasta al Pomodoro with Piennolo tomatoes from Vesuvio. I must admit that I do miss some of these flavours, because they can only be truly appreciated in Italy.
What would be your life-long dream?
My dreams are too big, and for the moment I keep them to myself. I don’t know exactly if I can fulfill them in Asia, Italy or elsewhere in the world, but one thing is certain: I will be in the kitchen trying to excite my audience. I can tell you only one thing: in my dreams I am the boss of my own restaurant.