Chef Name: Marco Zampese
Title: Head Chef
My favourite award is seeing the guests smile when they’re leaving the restaurant; our guests’ satisfaction is what makes us happy. Working as a team, the third Michelin star is one of the best awards a chef can get.
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I started working in kitchens when I was 16, just at weekends while I was at school and then university. I studied the science and culture of gastronomy at The University of Padua, so I spent most weekends during those years working in different kinds of restaurants, from fine dining to traditional, to gain experience. I also cheffed at various events during this time, including for the National Italian cycling team in three world championships, the Winter Olympics and a few others. That being said, I believe that I only really started to cook professionally when I finished my university course, when I was 22 years old.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
My grandfather used to produce olive oil, cheese, some charcuterie, and loads of different kinds of fruit and vegetables, so since I was very little I have been surrounded by top quality products and good food. This, combined with my parents’ hobby for cooking for friends, really developed my passion for food. They love cooking together.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
When it comes to chefs who I have worked with both in the past and presently, definitely Helene Darroze – she challenges us every day and she puts a lot of questions on the table in order for us to improve and push ourselves. I also admire her honesty and her energy as she is a very busy woman.
Alex Dilling too, he has been a great mentor to me and we are still good friends. I learned many things from him like organisation, cooking and leadership skills. I think we have a similar work ethic and character.
In terms of other chefs, Bjorn Frantzen inspires me in the way that he combines ingredients and cooking techniques from different cultures around the world – Nordic cooking, French cuisine, Italian ingredients, Asian techniques and so on…
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
- Sepia: The Cuisine of Martin Benn. Martin uses many different techniques which I think can inspire the creation of new dishes.
- Mirazur by Mauro Colagreco. I like the importance he gives to the seasonality of ingredients and his focus on sustainability.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
- Pasta: If I’m at home in Italy I eat pasta at least once every two days, I grab some fresh ingredients directly from the garden and an amazing meal is ready!
- Onion: roasted, consommé, on pasta, pizza, with fish or meat… I like them almost everywhere.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
A nice piece of meat or fresh fish on the BBQ.
In my family we have a tradition to BBQ at the weekends. So now every time I cook something on a wood fire it reminds me of home, family and friends, and I feel relaxed.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
Pujol in Mexico City, I’ve never had the opportunity to go to Mexico but I’ve always admired Mexican cuisine and ingredients.
I have always heard great things from friends and colleagues about Pujol so I’d really like to check it out. It will definitely be one of my first destinations after the pandemic restrictions ease.
And who would you take as your guest?
The experience of going to a restaurant of this level is more poignant when you can go with colleagues who understand the effort behind the whole meal, so I would go with my sous chefs and restaurant managers, hopefully we would get some inspiration for our future.
What do you look for in a good chef?
Passion, honesty and a good attitude in line with the other members of the team. When it comes to cooking of course they must know all the basics, but after that we will teach them the rest.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
I would tell them to try to work with chefs who inspire them the most, learn as much as they can, don’t be afraid to ask questions and one day they will find the right way to go.
How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?
Since the first day when we couldn’t accommodate guests in our restaurant, our work and private lives were completely changed. We had to work out how to adapt, there was little that we could do so we decided on the option of a takeaway menu. While our guests are no longer eating with us, they are still having our refined style of cuisine, made to be more suitable for dining at home. We now offer a five-course menu, and it changes every week.
It isn’t ‘our cup of tea’ to be a takeaway restaurant, but it was important for us to keep our restaurant alive through this pandemic, and we can stay connected with our guests in this way and try to provide them with an amazing experience. It also allows for the most important thing for me; to keep our team together, engaged and motivated.
Can you share any wisdom from the experience so far with others? Have you changed? Has your cooking changed?
Something that keeps me going is the thought that after this storm, the sun will shine again, so be patient, be strong.
In some ways my view on the products I’ll be using in the kitchen has changed, I will be more considerate and careful to try and support smaller producers, as I believe that they have suffered more through this pandemic. The cooking, when we reopen, will not have changed – our food culture is part of our identity and while we must keep evolving, we won’t forget our roots and past.
Also, I have to think of all of our friends and colleagues who lost their jobs, had to move or had their lives completely changed because of the pandemic. We consider ourselves to be very lucky because we are working in a fantastic restaurant and hotel, so for that I will always be grateful.
Chef Marco Zampese is Head Chef at Restaurant Hélène Darroze at The Connaught
Address: The Connaught, Mayfair, London
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 3147 7200