Rustic Italian fare with some deliciously interesting twists
With Luca Cesarini, the Executive Chef at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hotel (250 Sukhumvit Rd), there are no pretensions and no gimmicks. You won’t hear a backstory of a secret book of family recipes he discovered in the attic, or tales of foraging for mushrooms on weekends at an organic farm outside of Bangkok. Here you have a chef who brings nothing but his vast knowledge of Italian cooking—and skills he picked up from his travels across the world—to the tables at Rossini’s Italian restaurant.
Formally trained at the prestigious Erminio Maggia, the Italian College for the Culinary Arts, Luca began his gastronomic journey by working his way up at some of the best restaurants in Italy. One might think that someone who has worked in Michelin star kitchens across the world and earned numerous culinary accolades over a 20-year career would be a food snob who reeks of self-importance, but 10 minutes with Luca and his refreshing honesty and self-depreciating humour will throw all your preconceived notions right out of the window.
Just to test him, I ask why he thinks Italian cuisine has been so successful in this part of the world.
“People here really romanticise the land,” he replies, “honestly though, Italian cooking is simple, we don’t use too much spice. But I have had to adapt to the cooking here, because real Italian food would seem too simple. And to have a successful restaurant you need to include dishes that people will love and come to enjoy over and over again.” That explains why a place like Rossini’s has been running successfully for 20 years.
We begin with a Rustic Salad comprised of Burrata cheese, rocket, and cherry tomatoes, enhanced delicately with a sweet and spicy dressing. All this simplicity makes way for the intriguing Trout Tartare. The dish resembles a taco, and is meant to be eaten like one, with creamy trout mousse and pickled vegetables stuffed into phyllo pastry and topped with wild salmon roe. The dish is dressed up with vegetable foam, peppercorn droppings, and the head and tail sections of the trout in question (a daring display!).
In-between courses Luca reminiscences about his early food memories. “The love for cooking of course came from my family. They are food addicts. My aunt would always tell me that certain things need to be made a certain way, the right way. There was no questioning those methods, case closed,” he laughs. “I guess I found it funny that they are so stubborn on something like food. But today I have to say I am more stubborn than them.”
People often say chefs are rude. He agrees. “But you also have to understand there is no such thing as a calm chef. We are put under immense pressure.” Just then the Foie Gras— one of Rossini’s signature dishes, and one that aided in Chef Luca’s Iron Chef Thailand win—makes an appearance. Laying on top of a light butternut squash mousse, skirted with balsamic reduction and sprinkled with amaretto crumble, it’s tangy, sweet, rich, and packs in layers of flavours.
For the next course Chef Luca pulls up tableside with a 46 kg Parmesan cheese wheel, in which he pours a creamy Risotto. He gently tosses the risotto while scrapping bits of Parmesan from the wheel. When the dish is finally plated in front of us, Luca adds a final touch with thin shavings of black truffle. The earthy aroma and the melt-in-your-mouth risotto with asparagus creates the ultimate comfort food for the soul.
In his final presentation—like we weren’t full already—Chef Luca brings out a mild flavoured Roasted Turbot, with an assortment of root vegetable, finished with morel foam and jus made with sautéed morels.
At this point Rossini’s was winding down, so Luca could finally sit and enjoy the last course with us. Over a sinful tumbler of Rum Granite Chocolate Mousse, we get talking about his inspiration.
“When I started, Nouvelle cuisine was being taken over by contemporary cuisine. Then el Bulli and molecular gastronomy was the rage. At the moment, the cuisine is down to its basics—it’s rustic. And this is where I am really having fun. If I were to open up a restaurant tomorrow, I would do simple food cooked on real charcoal—not a Josper oven that some restaurants in the city try to get by on,” he smirks.