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Gathered around a stainless steel worktop, everyone is busy finely dicing vegetables: we are at Care's: The Ethical Chef Days, the first edition of an event sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna recently launched in Alta Badia which, among other things, provides an opportunity to make the acquaintance of some highly talented young chefs.
In fact, among the many here present, two chefs who became familiar to a global public in 2015 find themselves rubbing shoulders: the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 Mark Moriarty, a 23 year old Irishman who ousted all other competitors with his celeriac-based dish, and 24-year-old Paolo Griffa from Turin who represented Italy in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef final event with his daring creation of tripe and foie gras.
And as the selections start for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 – for which it is possible to register here until 31 March 2016 – Fine Dining Lovers have brought Moriarty and Griffa face to face in an amusing double interview: this is what they told us.
When do you think destiny marked you out for the profession of chef?
Mark Moriarty: At the age of 15, I was already working in a restaurant and my future was mapped out for me.
Paolo Griffa: From the very start, as soon as I could walk, I rushed into the kitchen to make sweets.
Three words to describe your cuisine.
MM. Simple, recognizable and basic (meaning traditional). At the moment I'm working on ways of cooking in a salt crust. I hope to discover some new things, but starting from the past.
PG. Three verbs: to amaze, excite and tempt. My cuisine is seriously playful: a rigorous approach applied to a playful and ironic vision.
What have you learned from your participation in the S.Pellegrino Young chef 2015?
MM. It was one of those experiences that change your life, making you wonder “Am I dreaming”? It was fantastic to get to know new people, many of whom have become friends. My mentor, Clare Smyth, has taught me to be punctilious and my team has shown me the importance of collaboration.
PG. Participation has increased my know-how exponentially. During those months, I learned to take on new challenges and, in doing so, I discovered my limits. What I found most bewildering during the trials was having to prepare my dish for over 300 people.
You have travelled a good deal in the past year; which countries are blazing new trails in the culinary art?
MM. Italy is ahead in terms of product quality and variety. But, in my opinion, the Scandinavian countries are those doing most research.
PG. Innovation is at a standstill. The most avant-garde country used to be Peru, or so we thought. But if you take a closer look, you realize that they are merely rediscovering traditional cuisine. In some countries, being avant-garde means returning to the past.
What does the concept of “ethical chef” mean to you?
MM. In Ireland, we are forced to be ethical if ethical means no waste and respect for the land. In the restaurants I’ve worked in, one principle has always held good: why put imported turbot or crustaceans on the menu if I can save money - and allow my customer to save - by using local ingredients? In this way, ethics become a question of common sense. If we use our own lambs, they are tastier, with that special tang of saltiness their meat takes on. We only work with salmon when it is at its best, from January to March. Going ethical means being attuned to nature.
PG. Ethics are about honesty. It means having respect for your clients and being consistent: if I adopt certain principles in running my restaurant, my main suppliers have to think along the same lines. You can use foie gras as well, so long as you obtain it from those breeders who do not force feed their geese.
The hardest lesson you have had to learn?
MM. At the age of 16, two of us having to cook for 100 people: a nightmare.
PG. A tiramisù that turned out to be a disaster while working in David Scabin’s kitchens: I won’t tell you what reaction it provoked!
Where do you imagine yourself in ten years’ time?
MM. Sitting in my restaurant, where I serve my modern cuisine. Where will it be located? In Dublin because I’m proud to be Irish.
PG. In my restaurant in Milano where my clients will be whisked off on a journey of amazement, provocation and explosions of flavour.