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During the six months of Expo Milano 2015, Heads of State and illustrious personages from all five continents will be staying at the Relais Villa Lario, a beautiful stately home in Mandello, on world-famous Lake Como, just a short distance away from Milan.
For the occasion, chef Enrico Derflingher will be in charge of the kitchen. Born not far from here 53 years ago, as the newly installed chairman of Euro-Toques International (a prestigious association of chefs founded by Paul Bocuse and Gualtiero Marchesi), Derflingher seems cut out for the role: who better than he who, at the very young age of 27, was appointed personal chef to the British Royal Family? We have recently spoken to him about it.
In what way is your Association related to Villa Lario?
The Relais will act as the official premises of Euro-Toques International throughout the Universal Expo. It is a private villa dating back to the early 1900s, completely renovated, with grounds covering over 10,000 square metres, two landing stages and a heliport. The hotel restaurant and five new suites are being inaugurated right now. 12 Heads of State are expected and the villa will be at their disposal. While working for those in power, I have learned to be discreet but I can say that we are expecting Prince William accompanied by Kate Middleton, Presidents Holland and Junker, as well as other important European Union figures. And there will be no shortage of surprises from the United States either. Besides, thanks to the liaison with Euro Toques, starred chefs will be arriving from all over Europe. Therefore, throughout the Expo event, Villa Lario will become a benchmark for haute cuisine. And when it is not welcoming ‘special’ guests, it will naturally be open to the public. This applies to both the villa and the restaurant.
It will be quite a commitment having to run both the Association and the Villa…
The organizational aspects do not scare me. Despite being a creative chef, I also know how to make ends meet. In Japan I have opened and run over 30 Italian restaurants, comprising the Armani Ginza Tower in Tokyo.
A philosophy you feel attuned to?
Contemporary cuisine with an eye to energy saving and a no-waste attitude to ingredients. I proved this to the 200 guests who attended the Nobel prize-giving ceremony by preparing a dish using lobster shells, onion skins and heads of prawn. The challenge launched by Joël Robuchon when I worked for him at the age of 25 is as topical as ever: eliminate the food waste bin.
You were appointed at a very young age to the position of personal chef to the British Royal Family. What recollections do you have of that period?
The appointment took me by surprise and gave an international boost to my career. I was the first Italian chef to work for the Royals, following a longstanding tradition of French chefs. And the only one to date. Prince Charles is an authentic gourmet; we used to chat for hours about introducing new vegetables and herbs to the kitchen. Despite his commitments, he always found time to visit the kitchen gardens at Highgrove House, his organic farm: I remember him talking with the farm labourers until late at night about varieties of red basil. He is fanatical about quality and he loved my first courses. One day, I was conversing with him in the greenhouse while an irritated Mrs.Thatcher waited for him inside the house: he turned up 40 minutes late for their meeting. The Queen Mother was not at all interested in the finer points of food. All she needed to know was that salmon and lamb from her estates were going to be on the table.
After the English Royals, it was the turn of a President...
Yes, in 1991 I became chef of the White House. Quite another kettle of fish, compared to the British. I remember that President Bush was very discerning: he was a wine connoisseur and asked for explanations of the dishes. His wife Barbara, on the other hand, could not distinguish a prestigious wine label from an ordinary one. Then I cooked at the opening ceremonies of the Beijing and London Olympics, representing Italy, as well as at the two G8s and the G20. So I am quite familiar with the tastes of those in power…