Visiting Chef Francesco Cavazzina at the L’Olivo Ristorante, Caroline Killeen from the CookeryPlus team learns what makes this young chef dish out Italian food like no other
Some days at work are harder than others. The day I was invited to chat with a handsome Italian ‘occasional body builder’ was not one of those days. Oh, did I mention he is also a Michelin chef who loves his mum?
Around six months ago, Rixos The Palm Dubai Hotel secured themselves a culinary all rounder for their restaurant L’Olivo Ristorante. He’s Francesco Cavazzina, a three-star Michelin chef born and raised in Italy with a wealth of tradition, yet a calling to experiment. He commenced his career in Venice under the watch of valuable mentors at The Bauer’s gourmet restaurant, De Pisis. He proclaims this is the place where his professional approach to food developed. Later he spent time working in some of London’s well established five-star hotels and Michelin star restaurants. However after listening to vivid childhood memoirs, it became clear to me that his natural intuition for quality ingredients was home grown.
“When I was young I remember waking up and smelling ingredients. It was very nice and I loved that.” It appears that both Francesco’s mother and grandmother were the forces underpinning his love for Italian food and cooking. More than this, he has innate appreciation. He remembers his grandmother making pasta almost everyday – ravioli and gnocchi. Shopping with his mother for quality produce was a regular activity and a fond memory. When asked about the reaction of these leading ladies to his becoming a chef, he recalls they were surprised, but always encouraging him to try out new things.
What about ingredients in Dubai? Supermarkets here are filled with products from all over the world. Produce often travels a long way to reach the shelves and the supply is rarely consistent. Given that quality ingredients are the essence of Italian cooking, Francesco is thankful for the direct supply line between Italy and the kitchen at L’Olivo Restorante. Orders are made twice weekly for quintessential deliveries including Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes. He doesn’t like to order too much so when its finished … its finished! “Even over a short time flavours can change. Guests may not notice but I do,” he says.
Moving from the ‘comfort zone’ of Italy to Dubai has presented its challenges – all welcomed by Cavazzi as part of the learning experience. He feels the diversity within the population makes it interesting to cook. An example of this is making small changes to Italian cuisine with a combination of products inspired by different nationalities. There are still those ingredients that traditional Italian cuisine could never be without. Francesco insists that Italian tomatoes, fresh basil and aromatic olive oil (just a little) will always be on the list.
It is mid-afternoon. Sitting in the contemporary Italian surrounds of L’Olivo Restorante, light floods in from oversized windows. The luxurious view is of ‘lifestyle on The Palm’ and just below will give you a live snapshot of alfresco dinners chatting and munching in equal measures. I’m curious. What can I expect? Francesco tells me that after he joined the restaurant, the cuisine style has changed from ‘traditional Italian’ to ‘Italian fine dining’. The menu base is altered every three months and entertains some interesting combinations. A supportive executive chef gives Francesco the ‘freedom to experiment and choose’ so long as the guests are happy. So basil-flavoured ice cream anyone?
Arriving at Rixos in September 2013, Francesco has spent enough time to feel ‘solid’. Guests often chat with him and ask questions such as advisable cooking temperatures whilst he enjoys asking about where they hail from. Though enjoying a high rate of satisfaction from guests, Francisco is always open to complaints or suggestions. He believes that this is necessary to truly understand what the client wants.
This client has always had dessert on her wish list. I eagerly ask Francesco what he recommends for desserts, and without a pause he mentions their chocolate fondant being an international favourite. There is tiramisu too, of traditional flavour and with a contemporary edge. Looking out the window I begin to dream about both. You can forget the second fork. I’m not sharing.