Incredible energy, strength and positivity... Meet Mauro Uliassi, Italy's newly-crowned three Michelin-starred chef in Senigallia who, despite a host of opportunities "outside of the kitchen" in recent years, from catering to TV broadcasting, decided to stay on course and focus on cooking.
What's the secret of his success? The search for perfection and the concious choice to surround himself with respectful and loyal people.
Come and meet Mauro Uliassi and discover his menu, his most famous dishes, his journey and his cooking philosophy in this exclusive interview with Fine Dining Lovers.
What was your training?
Few people know this, but I started as a barman. I then enrolled in hotel school and, by 22, I was already teaching cooking. My first work experience was with Lucio Capannari, at the Asta Hotel in Senigallia, Italy: it was a very difficult time, where I first understood how tough the cooking profession can be. At that time, my passion for cooking came second, I enrolled in University to study Sociology and the work became just a means to pay for my studies.
How did your passion for cooking return?
Thanks to a meeting with Chantal, who is now my wife. I still remember the day: it was August 22nd, 1983. I cooked for Chantal and some friends with a joy and a passion that re-awakened feelings I hadn't experienced for some time. It was a revelation. Seeing the happiness in the eyes of the people I loved as they ate, gave me new lease on life and made me think. From that day a series of social dinners began, from which people left so happy that it gave me the courage to open my own restaurant.
It's 1990, and you and your sister Catia decide to open a restaurant on the seafront in Senigallia...
Yes, we started almost as a joke. I was 30 and she was 22. I was lending a hand in the dining room in the afternoon, after studying. Then, slowly, this gamble became more and more a solid reality. Today, Catia is my alter ego in the dining room in Senigallia. She is an artist, she takes care of the aesthetics of the restaurant, she knows how to form deep human relationships with the customers: the restaurant could never have achieved this success without her.
And now, 28 years and two Michelin Stars later, the third Michelin star has arrived. What did you think when they told you?
I was very emotional. We knew that we were under observation by Michelin for five years. We believe that our game menu attracted particular attention: in a seaside restaurant it's considered strange to find these type of products, but in reality, it's tradition of the Adriatic Coast, where the fishermen are also hunters. First, many Italian inspectors arrived, and then foreign inspectors. Michelin has a very serious working method and leaves nothing to chance. Before you upset the order, you must think it through.
In your opinion, what led you to acheive the third Michelin star?
The search for total perfection, both in the kitchen and in the service and furnishings. I have been in the kitchen and the dining room every single day, in direct contact with the customers, 250 days a year for all the 9 months of the year in which the restaurant is open, always present. Paying attention to the needs and tastes of the guests. Every day, the waiting staff brought me feedback from the customers. Along with this there is, of course, constant research on the subject of avant-garde cooking.
In fact, ten years ago your Lab was born ...
Yes, the idea of Lab comes from my Spanish experience. Ferran Adrià in El Bulli had a group of chefs who were exclusively engaged in research. For us, it was not possible to sustain such an investment, so while the restaurant closed for 3 months, we spent one month travelling around the world and going to other restaurants, the other two months were dedicated to brainstorming, which we started to call "brain sailing".
These are moments of pure creativity applied to technology, where the mind rides the waves of the future of haute cuisine. Since then, every year, we create 12 unpublished dishes. This innovative approach has created strong interest and appreciation in the public as well, as in food and wine criticism. We set in motion a positive wave that surrounded us and brought us where we are now.
What is the most representative dish from your Lab in Senigallia?
Pancotto of sea urchins with almonds. A pancotto with 3 textures, cooked with almond milk. The dish is made by adding iced sea urchins and almond mousse.
Your game menu seems to arouse curiosity, because your restaurant is on the sea. What are the dishes that you would recommend trying?
I would recommend colombaccio alla marchigiana, de-boned wood pigeon, roasted and accompanied by its entrails and potato ravioli with game financière sautéed with sage butter and caramelised hazelnuts.
And which dishes do you consider milestones of your entire journey?
In the Classic menu, definitely Il Loaker di fegato grasso di 2006 the fat liver Loacker of 2006, a waffle biscuit in which, foie gras replaces chocolate: it is a very fond memory of childhood, it seems sweet but has a crazy taste.
And then, definitely, the tagliatelle di seppia, from 2005: cuttlefish is cooked at a low temperature of 53 degrees for 4 hours, removed from the vacuum and sliced. When it hardens, the cuttlefish is cut lengthwise to create noodles. The peculiarity is that the cuttlefish seems raw, although it's not, and this cooking technique makes the fish lose its slimy texture, making it firm and pleasant to chew. The noodles are seasoned with oil, lemon, seaweed pesto nori and sesame.
And then, another milestone is our fondant potatoes: mashed potatoes with black truffles and shrimp, which in winter is reinterpreted with game.
Let's talk about your desserts ...
Not many people know this, but I taught pastry for 15 years at the Istituto Alberghiero di Senigallia. I really love desserts. Of course, those designed in the Lab are special, as they overbear the diner after a course of 10 dishes. That's why I suggest desserts like Red Tropea onions with cherries and lemongrass or Squacquerone granita with pollen and ice celery. While on the classic menu we have tiramisu with a biscuit soaked in coffee and gratinated, with mascarpone mousse and an iced chocolate grounds.
Now, after the third star, what happens?
We are full of positivity. We are very happy. We feel galvanised and full of energy. But we are used to not resting on our laurels. Success is a past participle, it has already happened. We are centred on the here and now. We are also aware of the responsibilities but there is no fear because the choices that have brought us here have long been taken. We have built our path on solid foundations.
What are the qualities you need to have to work with you?
Respect and loyalty. Without these values, you cannot join our team. I surround myself with people whom I can trust blindly. My collaborators have been with me for years.
What does the sea mean to you?
My daily companion. We opened a restaurant that's ten meters from the beach, five meters from the river, and is located a short distance from the pier and the port. The sea is always beautiful and, above all, it is never the same. I like it when the sun is a red sphere and people look for clams with water up to their knees, when it snows, when there is the bora and the seagulls defy the wind and the air fills with the smell of fermented seaweed so that it reaches the countryside, when the scent of the sea mixes with the asphalt. There could not be a better companion.