The New President of “Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe” in Italy
text © 2012
Andrea Sarri’s restaurant “Agrodolce” is situated on the seafront at the quay of the port of Oneglia in the Ligurian city of Imperia on the Italian Riviera. It boasts one Michelin star, 15 out of 20 points in the Espresso guide and a rating of 82/100 from Gambero Rosso. I met with chef/proprietor Sarri at the National Congress of the Italian members of the international association, “Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe,” held this year in Udine. Sarri had just been declared President of the Italian chapter succeeding Emanuele Scarello, the chef/proprietor of “Agli Amici” in nearby Godia. My interview with Scarello for Epicurean-traveler.com was published in April 2010.
Our tastes in food are closely connected to our childhood; what are your first memories of food?
AS: Certainly my early memories of food take me into my mother and father’s kitchen. Their cuisine has always been my inspiration. I certainly can’t forget the aromas of genuine cooking, based on a local product whose top-quality is maximized by a knowledgeable and caring hand. The culture and love of good food has always accompanied me since I took my very first steps. My mother from Umbria always teased and delighted our palates and brought us up to eat well and healthily. In contrast to today’s habits, which frequently don’t allow us to sit at the table and enjoy a long meal, in my family the meal and conviviality around the table have always been exalted.
Why did you decide to become a chef?
AS: I’ve been a chef since I was very young. I’ve always been curious and my curiosity pushed me, encouraged me to pursue all my professional experiences, those in Italy and abroad. My parents, who are also restaurateurs, were strong influences on me and encouraged me to experiment my skills in the kitchen from a young age.
Who were your mentors and what did you learn from them?
AS: I don’t like to narrow down my choice to one chef or to one experience in particular. I think to become a top chef it’s as important to work in a small family-owned trattoria as it is to work in a famous, starred restaurant under a highly-esteemed chef. What’s important is to understand the value and reap the fruits of every type of experience.
Other professional chefs in your family?
AS: My father.
Why is your restaurant called “Agrodolce” or “Sweet and Sour”?
AS: Probably because it mirrors my lifestyle and my character and so consequently also my way of preparing food which highlights contrasts.
What are the essential qualities of a top chef?
AS: Passion, sacrifice, and humility.
What do you like best about your work?
AS: The creativity, to work with people who have my same aspirations, and to have the possibility of being a professional in a field that gives me so many satisfactions.
AS: Dealing with an arrogant client.
What’s your culinary philosophy?
AS: I’ve been a chef for many years and my culinary philosophy is continually evolving. My cardinal points remain the same: top-quality ingredients all from my region: Liguria. My style is sober, as fundamental and refined as possible, no frills, and lots of substance.
In a nutshell, how would you define your cuisine?
What are your signature dish and other specialties?
AS: I don’t like to list my specialties. A dish that I enjoyed preparing yesterday probably will have evolved by today. My dishes continually evolve and sometimes regress.
We recently met in Udine at the Annual Meeting of the Italian members of “Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe” where your election as their president was announced. When did you join and how old were you?
AS: I became a member in 2005 when I was 35.
Who founded “Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe”?
AS: Walter Bianconi, Paolo Masieri, Herbert Hintner, Walter Eynard, all top chefs with great talent and the highest possible merits for all of whom I nurture a deep respect.
Why would a young chef/restaurant owner want to be a member?
AS: He or she would want to be a member to confront and compare his or her talent with their equals, to widen his or her horizons, enrich him-or-herself and consequently grow professionally and personally.
The prerequisites for acceptance in JRE are to be between 23 and 37 years of age and to have been proprietor or co-proprietor and chef of his or her restaurant for at least three years. The advantages are to live a group experience with the common goal of improving the quality and the prestige of Italian cuisine and restaurants.
How many members are there in Italy? All together? What other countries have chapters? Besides the annual national meeting, are there international meetings of all the members?
AS: JRE Italia has just over 80 members; 56 are active and 26 are honorary because they were active but are now over 45. Other JRE member countries are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and a small representation in Australia. Every year we hold a national congress somewhere in Italy like the one where we’ve just met in Udine attended by our Italian members, and every two years we hold a European congress in a different member country.
Who is the President now of all the “Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe”?
AS: Ramón Dios Barberia from Spain.
You have just been elected for a three-year term as President of Italy’s chapter of JRE. What are some of your plans?
AS: I hope to consolidate, strengthen, and publicize JRE Italia’s position and image. I’d like to organize charitable events and to participate in others to publicize our organization, and I’d like to find additional young talented restaurant owners/chefs to guarantee a successful future for JRE Italia.
Emanuele Scarello, whom I interviewed in 2010, has just finished his term as President; did you meet through JRE? Your impressions of Scarello, please?
AS: I got to know Emanuele through JRE. We hit it off immediately and became close friends. I strongly believe that I have character traits and values similar to Emaneule’s. First and foremost, honesty, correctness, and humility. Emanuele has a determined personality. He’s charismatic, a born leader who inspires others; he’s very well organized and methodical. I especially admire his long view and determination to modernize JRE Italia in ways he thought would improve it, but always giving ample space and responsibilities to members of his “board of directors” as a father would to a son.
Up to now you’ve told me about Andrea Sarri the chef; I’d like to know more about Andrea Sarri himself. For example, what are your favorite foods?
AS: I don’t like to talk about dishes for dishes-sake; rather about the ambience, which goes with the dish. For example, I love beach food, simple dishes that you can eat with your hands at the edge of the sea during the summer, but I also like to savor more complicated dishes in elegant ambiences.
A dish you dislike?
AS: A dish prepared without love.
Your favorite wines?
What’s never missing in your fridge at home?
AS: Unfortunately, it’s almost always empty. I’m in keeping with the Italian saying “the shoemaker’s shoes are always in need of repair.”
Chefs are well known for having collections, often of motorcycles, fast cars, or watches; what about you?
AS: I’m very athletic and dynamic, but I don’t have a collection of anything specific.
Your feelings about food critics and restaurant guides; have they been helpful to you or do they add stress?
AS: I almost always agree with their critiques.
Other chefs you admire?
AS: Ezio Santin for his style and his way-of-being. I admire so many of the young chefs who are members of JRE.
If they hadn’t become chefs, Heinz Beck told me he had wanted to be a painter, Marchesi a pianist; Emanuele Scarello the Center Forward of the best soccer team in the top league (serie A). What about you?
AS: I have many, many hobbies, but I can’t imagine being in any other profession that would be able to give me these same emotions.
Lucy Gordan is an award-winnning travel writer and cultural journalist living in Rome, where she is Epicurean-Traveler.com’s Bureau Chief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.lucygordan.com.