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The unconventional style of Marco Maestoso

NATANGA SMITH, [email protected]

The unconventional style of Marco Maestoso

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Marco Maestoso mind was centred on cooking. When he was supposed to be in class studying, his mind was churning out culinary confections: “I was always cooking from young, mostly for my friends. I started college and still my mind was on cooking and I wasn’t studying my courses.

“I felt guilty that I wasn’t following my passion so I said I am going to quit school and do cooking.”

Marco left college and his degree of biotechnology, and got a job in a restaurant.

“I was 19 years old. My parents were pretty upset in the beginning. They really wanted me to see if I could finish college but I didn’t want to. So we agreed on me working in the restaurant to see if that is what I really wanted.”

“My first job was in my college town restaurant [only three diners]. Nothing fancy, serving traditional, central Italy food, but what it taught me was the real feeling of the grandmother tradition inside the restaurant because the grandmother was actually inside the restaurant and a daughter and son were working in the restaurant.”

Marco started to also pursue his culinary degrees, while working, making sure he had all the know-how.

He attended one of the most important schools in the culinary scene, Gambero Rosso in Italy, where he is from, and he had the chance to meet and stage for many Michelin starred chefs.

“That introduced me to a whole new world. The different levels of cuisine are at a bar that I wanted to achieve and just exploded my passion.”

After travelling Europe and the United States, he opened his first restaurant in New York in 2013. Pleased by the many reviews, he decided to open one back home in Rome, Casa Maestoso.

“When I was in New York I wanted to speak my own language in the kitchen. I always wanted to do things my way and since I was working at a hotel, I was limited by the people in charge.

“So I started to save my money. First it was pops-up every single day in my house and then it got really big and ABCNY came and did a segment, Wall Street Journal and NY Times also did a piece and the word got out.”

Marco is on the cusp of opening another one in San Diego, comfortable with his hand-picked team at all three restaurants to make they stayed top-class.

“I stayed two years in New York to set up that one and left that to a chef friend. I stayed two and a half years in Rome, and left that to a group of chefs.

“What I try to do with the  restaurants is that I have an input in the menus and then who I leave in charge I totally trust to handle the rest on their own.”

Marco’s special dish is a pasta called Amatriciana.

“Traditional Italians say not to change it, leave the recipe as is. But my biggest challenge is always to try to recreate flavours in a whole different way and just work on the ingredients without spoiling them, and still get the same flavour at the end of the day, same texture, same experience.

Marco admits he likes to move away a lot from recipes.

“I believe a chef doesn’t have to rely on recipes too much . . . . It is just a base from where you start.”

Marco was one of five chefs who were here recently for the Barbados Meets The World workshops and events, the brainchild of Bajan chef Jason Howard, in partnership with the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, he told EASY magazine his favourite ingredients to play with are citrus: “I like lemons, limes, oranges. They enhance so much as they are full of oil in their skins and the juices are strong.”

He has cooked for the president of Italy, actors, fashion designers, including the Versace family.

He approaches a menu based on the client.

“I try to adapt to the situation. There are some places, for example in Rome that are so traditional that if I bring another cuisine it is not going to work.”

Marco, 31, said social media has grown his profile and that of his restaurants: “People always want to see the dishes and what the restaurant is up to.”

Marco said now his family is very proud of him and he has gotten them a house on the lake and also a farm. (NS)