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Ernesto Iaccarino is the newly appointed President of Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe. For the next three years, this chef – who comes from the Italian region of Campania - will be directing JRE, an association founded in 1974 which groups over 340 restaurants in 13 countries: "What with my restaurant in Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi (near Naples, editor’s note) and the amount of advisory work I am involved in, I’m always on the go” he tells us. "But I couldn’t say no to such an important assignment. I shall try to do my utmost and focus my efforts on all of our new objectives, as I have done in the last three years as vice president”.
Iaccarino, who was born in 1970, has inherited a great culinary tradition: the name Don Alfonso 1890 refers to his great grandfather Alfonso Costanzo, and the date on which this restaurant was founded, now a two Michelin starred establishment.
We of Fine Dining Lovers have interviewed him regarding his new position at the helm of the association which, for the last forty years, has gathered together young European restaurant owners aged under 42, with the aims of promoting innovation without forgetting the value of tradition and supplying a network for the exchange of knowhow and projects.
What are the first objectives you intend to pursue as President of the Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe?
At the start of 2016 we will publish a new JRE manifesto: it is always important to draw up a charter of values everyone in JRE can identify with. The objectives, ideas and philosophy emerging from our ranks will constitute my guidelines for the next three years; it is what we believe in now and what we will be working for in the future.
What is your primary objective, the one you feel most akin to?
When talking with my colleagues, as an Italian, I always emphasize the importance of where our raw materials come from. It is our duty to know everything about the ingredients we use and to ensure they are sustainable, both economically and environmentally. A chef must take it on himself to safeguard biodiversity and his own terroir.
Is it necessary for haute cuisine to focus entirely on local produce?
No, on the contrary. We must have a broadminded, global outlook, without going to extremes. Just consider Italian cuisine: tomatoes originally came from America, coffee is mainly grown in Central and South America and even the buffalos that give us the milk for our mozzarella were brought by Hannibal in the III century BC. We need to be constantly tuned in to changes taking place globally. As we also declare in our manifesto: "Excellent innovation will become a new tradition".
Innovation, supply chain ... what other keyword will characterize your Presidency of JRE?
Identity. I remember going to Tunisia and Morocco a few years ago to look for candidates for a competition inviting the participation of Mediterranean chefs; in both cases, I was taken to French restaurants. Instead, the message I would like to get across is that of creating one’s own culinary identity, by valorising regional traditions and differences.
What is the most important thing you have learned from your father Alfonso Iaccarino?
Respect for our raw materials, which translates into self-respect: food is closely related with what we are and so a healthy and well-balanced diet impacts our entire life.
What do you think of the younger generation now taking up jobs in restaurant kitchens?
In recent years, I have seen young people convinced that being a chef resembles a TV show. They do not realize that this is actually a tough job, involving sacrifice and very little free time. There is, however, a positive aspect to this overwhelming presence of chefs in the media: we now have a younger clientele. When I first started out, the average customer was 60, 70 years old but now I see twenty year olds who maybe prefer to dine with us rather than buy the latest mobile phone model.