Italian chef Riccardo Bertolino’s career has taken him on quite a journey from his hometown of Bologna. He worked in London, Paris and Singapore before landing a job with Daniel Boulud at Daniel in New York. Being grounded in classical French technique, but with plenty of Italian heart, Bertolino’s cooking soon became indispensible to Boulud, and he was eventually tasked with running a new kitchen in a new city at Maison Boulud in Montreal.
Bertolino will add Milan to his itinerary next year, as he assumes the role of mentor to a talented young Canadian chef for S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018. In the run up to the competition, Fine Dining Lovers grabbed a word with the globetrotting chef.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef – what inspired you and what obstacles did you overcome to achieve your dream?
I was 13 years old, in Italy, and I saw the culinary institute also taught English and French. It was an hour’s drive away and I needed an excuse to get away from home. I thought the more I learned about the culinary arts, the more job opportunities and independence I would have. I don’t see any obstacles; it’s all just a part of the life I choose. Maybe I still haven’t learned how to have a good work-life balance - to find space for my wife and myself and not think about food for a minute.
What was your biggest triumph as a young chef, and is there anything you would consider your biggest failure?
In the last 5 years, I have cooked for such amazing chefs in my restaurant as Anton, Colagreco, Gagnaire, Marcon, Muller, Robuchon and many others. It’s always very stressful, but 10 years back I never thought I’d be in this position, and I’m proud. I don’t remember a big failure. We could always do better but all the experiences have been worth it for me.
As a mentor, what do you expect from your young chef, and what do you think you can offer him?
I expect him to have the discipline to face as many tests as possible, and to take this challenge with the pride and the effort it deserves. I hope he will listen and take my suggestions constructively. I hope we can taste and review the dish together at the final and bring it to perfection. I think I can offer the perspective of judge, chef and customer regarding his dish.
What would victory in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition mean for a young chef?
It would mean happiness to have achieved a great goal. I hope the winner will cherish the memories and the lessons of this journey. Winning this competition won’t make him or her a chef de cuisine - that takes more than just a dish - but I strongly think that they will learn a lot from the challenge.
What have you learned from working with a mentor like Daniel Boulud?
I learned a lot about food and French technique, but also taste - the most important part of our job - and especially respect and trust. Chef Daniel gave me a job 10 years ago as Chef de Partie at Daniel Restaurant, and from then he offered me many challenges. He believed in me, and gave me a great opportunity to grow. It has been a great lesson and journey, and the more it goes on, the more I learn.
How has travelling shaped you as a chef?
Coming from beautiful and historic Bologna, I’ve always been fascinated by the lights of big cities like London, Paris and New York. I wanted to live there and become part of the tradition and lifestyle. I spent the last 15 years travelling from kitchen to kitchen around the globe. That’s definitely shaped my food. Every taste evokes a memory of a moment of my life and with that a country and it’s tradition.
Which ingredients and dishes from home do you miss the most?
Italy has so many incredible products the list will be too long! At the moment I’m missing a good bollito misto with a glass of Lambrusco, a plate of white truffle tajarin, an amazing Bronte pistachio gelato inside a brioche. Artichokes, anchovies, figs, etc.
How is classic French cuisine changing?
I don’t think French cuisine is changing. I actually think it’s going back to its roots, with many restaurants rediscovering the old classiques. After that, every chef does the food that he or she likes most. I think in general, kitchens are changing due to waste awareness, cost control and social media.
You’re a fan of combat sports like Ju Jitsu – what skills from these are useful in the kitchen?
First of all, discipline and respect for others, but also the control of stress and breathing.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future?
At the moment I’m trying to do the best food possible in Maison Boulud. For the future I dream to build an amazing restaurant with my wife, Isabel. She’s my daily inspiration and the greatest sommelier I ever met.