Each dish he designs has its own mood and a story to tell, so it’s no surprise that he is often sought out by some of the biggest names in fashion. Chatting with him in the soft light in the dining room of his own restaurant Essenza, he talks about what he cooks with the same ambition as a young stage. He has been cooking his entire life, he is his craft. Considering the precision that go
es into each plate, he is a surprisingly easy-going guy with a contagious enthusiasm. You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the cool ingredients, gadgets, and techniques he uses to get the effects and smashing colors that light up the table. Unexpectedly funny, chill and wickedly smart, there is a reason that everyone’s talking about this chef.
CITY GIRL: Why are you a chef?
EUGENIO:First of all, I am a cook. It’s a question I also ask myself: did I choose this work or did this work choose me? I started really young, cooking with my grandmother when I was only three years old who was Italian but came to Holland with her pasta machine and everything. Making fresh pasta was the first thing I learned to do, I learned how to use my hands.
CITY GIRL: If you weren’t going to be a chef, what else would you have done?
EUGENIO: I don’t know, I haven’t even considered it, there is no other alternative in my mind. This is my life.
CITY GIRL: Any new trends or ingredients in the kitchen you like?
EUGENIO: Food is not fashion. I don’t even know if an ingredient is trending right now because I specifically try to stay outside of the loop. My dishes are born of my memories, maybe from a personal encounter I had with someone, a colleague or maybe from a trip I took somewhere. My dishes are born in the past in order to become something to put into the future, not because I have to use an ingredient. This is my point of view, this is about how I see things.
CITY GIRL: Julia Childs always said anyone who came to her house for lunch would always have a Salade Nicoise, what would be the standard lunch you would give someone?
EUGENIO: That’s hard because every time someone comes to my house they’re going to get something different because I want to channel each person individually. It’s the same thing for events, I never give them something from the restaurant. If you tell me you want to do something in particular, I will make a dish specific to that thing, for me it is the right thing to do. What I cook is an expression of what is inside of me. Just like, how we’ve heard a million times that we shouldn’t eat something out of season.
CITY GIRL: What is the quickest dessert someone can serve at home?
EUGENIO: I would have to say “blinis”, they’re just made of milk, vanilla, egg, and flour, cooked on a type of griddle until they puff up, then get turned with a wooden stick and topped with pad of butter and some powdered sugar. They’re something I remember from my dad that he brought from Holland.
CITY GIRL: So how do you blend your Italian and Nordic roots into your cooking?
EUGENIO: It’s pretty easy really. I would say that I formed by palette in Holland. It was by accident I was born in Italy, I just missed being born in Holland by a couple of days. My first tastes were developed there, butter instead of oil for example. These are tastes that are a little bit stronger and richer, like smoked pork for instance. But it’s also the way you eat that is different, like for breakfast instead of something sweet I’ll eat black bread and herring.
CITY GIRL: How does your cooking style reflect your personal style?
EUGENIO: Well I’ve tried to absorb as much as possible from all of the places I’ve been before. There is influence from France and from Sicily where I lived before and from all the people I’ve met. This has given me a perspective that allows me to share in things that I’ve experienced and interpret them in the way that I experienced them, like how you eat on the street.
CITY GIRL: And what do you think about how the street food concept is developing in Italy?
EUGENIO: Well, like a lot of things in Italy it’s gotten a little over-hyped. I mean if you go to Asia or another another country, eating on the street is a way of life, not a trend. I think now Italy might be re-acquiring a value that may have gotten lost in the past. In the sense, if someone wants to find the best focaccia or panino, they go to a blog to find reviews. Before, like when I was working in Liguria, we were working long hours so we went to go find what was closest to us, we didn’t have a lot of time, we ate from street vendors and they became the best places to eat.
CITY GIRL: Do you like fashion?
EUGENIO: I think it’s a beautiful thing. I believe in good pairings and in fashion it is the same. I don’t think it’s right if there is an important event and you show up in gym shoes for instance. I also love this eyeglasses designer that I found on Corso Magenta.
CITY GIRL: How do you diversify the menus from season to season – like how is last years spring menu different from this years?
EUGENIO: Oh it’s completely different. It changes because I change. Everyone changes, we don’t stay the same, it is a constant evolution. The seasons menus reflect my memories of what I was trying out and what I was doing that year, of my experience.
CITY GIRL: What makes a dish luxurious?
EUGENIO: It needs to be good and it needs to be respected. It’s not about gold or foie gras, it’s not the ingredients. It’s about how things are put together.
CITY GIRL: What would be your ultimate cooking experience?
EUGENIO: There are two answers to that question. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to cook for my father, but this isn’t a dream that is achievable. Theother ultimate experience is cooking for the one that I love, not necessarily what I cook but the intensity that goes into the experience, the love that is transmitted. There is nothing better than that.