Clams, cuttlefish, pine nuts and then? The freshness of lemon

Vongole, seppie, pinoli e poi? La freschezza del limone

From my first day in the kitchen I lived with a nightmare: getting up to speed. Basically I started cooking at an age that for many chefs and cooks is the age of consecrations and satisfaction. Starting cooking at the age of 23 is like deciding to start playing football at the age of 40, your fellow peers have much more experience than you, they have grown up in this world, at 14 years were already internships for kitchens, studied the food at school. When I was 14 I was in charge of the hiring of Aldo uncle canoes, earning my first salary. What I was studying in high school were numbers, equations, logarithms, I wanted to be an engineer...

Equations, logarithms and hot summers

I enrolled at the university, because I wanted to become an engineer: six months of study in Perugia. Engineering, environment and territory. «Study what» they told me, it is the future. A month before the famous Meredith case I decided to leave Perugia, I missed the sea, my house, my girlfriend, the one who will soon become my wife! interrupted studies, summer starts, as always I work at the family restaurant, it’s been 7 years since I rent canoes, now I work in contact with people: I like this job, I do it with passion, it’s nice to stay in contact with customers.

But I wanted to become an engineer, so I go back to university and I subscribe to the Federico II, Engineering environment and territory. Two years of studies, 6 confirmed exams, I study in winter and work in summer, six exams until June 2011, the season is approaching, my university results are poor, basically I like the beautiful university life not the university itself, let’s be clear I have always been a practical man. I looked forward to summer to work, earn some money and have fun.

And like every summer working at the family restaurant, Ida, my restaurant, is always mine but I never felt utterly integral part of this world, perhaps because I did it in a superficial way or because I was doing a job that someone else could have in my place. My father Giovanni, who made me make a good life for years, decided it was time to stop being “the fool not to go to war” and flatly tells me: «Decide what you want to do, or graduate or the work for you is there, but in the kitchen, I need you there»..

A monkfish of three kg!

I knew that the university would last a maximum of one more year, then I would have thrown in the towel, so I chose to take this path which for me was a kind of ultimatum. June 2011, the first day in the kitchen, Aunt Pina decides that I have to understand right away that it will not be a pic-nic and taking a monkfish of 3 kg, hangs it to the dish rack and says: «Let’s start from here, clean it». Now, I believe that only a few know the difficulty of cleaning a monkfish, and I had never eaten fish before that day (it will seem incredible: for 23 years I did not eat fish!) nor I had the slightest idea of how I would clean it, let alone a monkfish.
With calm and patience Aunt Pina sat next to me and, hell if I do not clean the monkfish Experience with Aunt Pina lasted for two summers, her mission was to teach me many things as she could before before retirement... even though she can not stay retired, her first name is Pesce (Fish), we are made to work. In two years she has managed to convey what she has learned in 40 years of this job, although for me it was not a little difficult to share and understand everything she gave me.
After two years with Aunt Pina, the kitchen has passed under my control, but nothing I could have if my mother had not been to watch over me (as she does to this day). She took a very dificult decision: o step aside is not easy for those who work in the kitchen and living on bread and satisfactions. After the experience with aunt I had one of the greatest fortunes that could happen to me, Crescenzo Scotti.
The gourmet vision

Then working at the Regina Palace and divided between the hotel and gourmet restaurant: for the first time I saw him prepare dishes that are not simple spaghetti with clam or fried fish, and I entered the world of low temperatures, long cooking, blast, vacuum things that I had never seen before. It was love at first sight: Crescenzo and his second at the time, my cousin Marcello Pesce, have shaped me, I was like a blank canvas on which they could write about everything. It would remain indelible on me forever. I remember everything I learned during that time. So now is the time of the events: summer 2013 first summer ‘alone’ (there was always Mom).In six months I lost 17 kilos in weight, panic attacks, sleepless nights, anxiety, stress at will, in the end we did it. The statistics said that after the abandonment of Aunt Pina, Ida restaurant would not have an easy life and that fate was sealed: we believed in it, we have focused on continuity, I tried to do what I had learned in the best way without changing one iota. The prediction was overturned.Over the summer it has turned back the urge to gourmet. I can get two weeks at the Ikarus Restaurant, owned by the Redbull Hangar-7 in Salzburg. In hindsight I was not ready, but working in a kitchen with a brigade of 30 people nd all imaginable equipment, ingredients from around the world, has sanctioned my eternal love for the search for the taste and the new. I return home laden with ideas, started summer I just wanted to overturn the kitchen of the restaurant Ida, creating dishes, rejuvenate the menu, smaller portions and refined solutions, forgetting the essence and soul of the restaurant. I started buying expensive products unrelated to us, trying to erase the tradition.

The tradition cannot be erased

My father had to intervene again. We clashed because now my ideas were different from his ideas, I was convinced to know everything, that our kitchen was old and outdated, but managed to make me appreciate the right food for our restaurant: tradition with quality products, right portions and a range of proposals that satisfies a diverse audience without borders. We end another summer, with a little of disagreements. Comes the turn of France. Francesco Armato, almost my age who worked for many years in the kitchens of Italian elite, from Cracco to Alajmo, he moved to Alsace, where starting from scratch with aromas and flavors, in Zimmersheim, and tries brigade. I spend two months by him. Takes shape mastery of the techniques, the reasoning behind a dish, the study to find the balance. Francesco taught me this.
I go back to Italy, hungry for knowledge. Pierfranco Ferrara, chef at the Faro of Capo d’Orso in Maiori, holds a 4 day of class on starry Coast cuisine. I go there immediately. The chef takes me  back being down to earth that were taken off after Austria, he teaches me to value our products: lemon, basil, oil, cheese. Everything we need is here, no need to arrive in Burundi.
A new summer is upon us, my father has an idea of a new dish (he has a new desire of change), and we try it at home. Clams, squid and pine nuts. A pleasure. We think of, we try and taste it, we try again. There is something missing, lemon, here! Comes the new “Spaghetti by Ida”’, the first one in a long series of other dishes, studied with wisdom, with our products. Since that day, the ideas are discussed together, we try to find the right balance between seasonality and availability of fresh produce, we draw the excellence of our land. Today I can say with certainty that my cuisine is a tradition in evolution, with a look to the future but with both feet firmly on the present, I feel much changed since that distant 2011, but then as now I have to catch up.

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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
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