Interviewed November 2011
Alfonso Iaccarino is head chef of Don Alfonso 1890, an iconic restaurant on the Amalfi coast. Much of the produce used in the restaurant is grown on a nearby farm owned by the family.
Q – How long have you been cooking professionally?
I was born in my family hotel and since my childhood I spent my entire vacation periods in the kitchen with my grandfather, who was an exceptional chef. I have been cooking all my life.
Q – Where did you train to cook?
After school I studied at the hotel school of Stresa and after that I worked in the family business until 1973, when with my wife Livia I started Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant. So, since that date I have run my own restaurant.
Q – How would you describe your style of cooking?
I have been always convinced that the way we eat represents the major reasorns for our good health or bed health. Before the taste, the smell, the shape there is a fundamental concept in my creations...the food we produce, we create must be above healthy and for me it is not only a word “à la mode” but represents an entire philosophy in that I believe since 40 years. So, I would say my style of cooking is modern-traditional, healthy, Mediterranean cuisine.
Q – Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
I think the greatest secret, is first of all to have a dream, but when we have a dream we have to work hard to realize the dream we have. My dream has always been to try to satisfy every single guest which comes to visit us and enjoy our cuisine, every day, every week, every month, every year for 40 years.... that is the secret. The most important secret can be resumed in one word...”the quality”...the quality of the produces, the quality of the human relationship, the quality of the structure, of the materials we use, the quality of the staff which works with us and the quality of life we can give to them, that is the only way to get 100% from their performances.
Q – Do you have a “signature dish” or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
There are some dishes I am proud of. One of them is “Vesuvius of rigatoni…” that is a baked pasta with mozzarella, ricotta, basil, small meat balls and eggs all baked in the oven and served with a light tomato ragout. This creation tells about the culinary tradition of my region and of my family
Q – Do you have a favourite ingredient?
There are 3 ingredients I could never live without: these are the artisan-made dried pasta, the tomato and the extra virgin olive oil which are of course some of the basic ingredients of my cuisine.
Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?
When I can I go to Naples in the historical quarter to eat a wonderful pizza at “Pizzeria del Presidente”.
What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?
One of the most interesting food experience of my life has been in a restaurant in Hanoi in Vietnam some years ago. I remember I had a wonderful dinner!
What would be your “last request” dish?
A perfect pizza!
Is there another chef that you most admire?
Outside Italy my good friend Joel Robuchon, in Italy Gualtiero Marchesi.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
To work in the kitchen or to own a restaurant is not only a job, that takes our entire life. The first suggestion I would give is not really a suggestion but more a question...: are you ready to sacrify your life for such a hard mission?? The second suggestion is...: to travel as much as possible because it is by travel that we learn the most.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
During the last five years we have done a huge renovation which led to the creation of wonderful new suites, swimmin gpool, garden, an outside restaurant where guests can enjoy simple and traditional creations, an underground area for the food preparation and storage and a new kitchen laboratory where we organize cooking classes (in different languages of course) and where we realize our everyday research. In the last ten years we have also developped a consulting activity which led us to be restaurant consultants in 3 top level hotels in Italy, to open the Don Alfonso 1890 Macao inside the hotel New Grand Lisboa in Macau, to become consultant of the restaurant "l italian" inside the hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech and to be consultant on board of the Christina 0 boat owned once upon a time by mr Onassis. All that I did not realize alone....my wife Livia, my 2 sons Ernesto and Mario are sharing the Don Alfonso project with me since the beginning, giving everyday of their life all the best they can.