Interview with the Chef: Sergio Leoni from Cavigilli

Interview with the Chef: Sergio Leoni from Cavigilli

In the quaint historic centre of the ski village of Flims lies a very special restaurant that is a favourite of our clients: Cavigilli. We sat down with the head chef, Sergio Leoni to chat about his career, cuisine and what has influenced him the most, and he even shared one of his delicious recipes with us – perfect to try at home.

Where did you train to be a chef? 

I spent 5 years training in a hotelier school up in Chiavenna, Italy. It’s located just north of Lake Como. For the first couple of years, we covered all the bases, learning how everything works behind the scenes. I worked at reception, in the kitchen and even as a waiter. Then for my 3rd, 4th and 5th years, I decided to focus my attention on the kitchen. This is where I found my passion for cooking and where I started my training as a chef. 

How would you describe the style of your cooking?

I would describe my cooking as Alpine Mediterranean. It’s traditional, simple and clean, yet has a slight modern twist. Although it’s Italian through and through.

I believe if you have a restaurant that specialises in a foreign cuisine, you have to stick to your roots. We import the finest and freshest Italian produce, and everything is made in house. The 10 years that I spent living and working in Trentino inspired me to unite the beauty of the mountains and the ocean, and to create dishes from both landscapes. 


What has had the greatest influence over your cooking and your approach to food?

The most inspirational and influential period of my life was when I spent 5 and a half years working in St Moritz, under an incredibly talented chef named Haus Nussbaumer. The knowledge I gained from those 11 seasons played a huge role in where I am today. Saying that, I also spent 10 years living and working in Mexico, and it’s hard to beat what I learnt there. The culture, the flavours of the food, the energy of the country – It’s certainly left its mark on me. Although where I feel influenced by Latino cuisine, I could never bring it into my Italian kitchen. It’s best to keep the two separate.  

Do you have a signature dish, or one that you most enjoy cooking?

I enjoy cooking what my clients tell me they enjoy eating. There’s no better feeling than learning about the people you’re cooking for, and creating dishes around their taste. I don’t have a signature dish, but I do have a favourite ingredient – Fresh pasta. It’s like a blank canvas. The perfect ingredient to allow room for creativity. Always topped off by some fresh herbs from our allotment. 


What is your favourite dish to cook at home for your family?

When I’m with my family or friends, I like to keep things nice and simple. There’s nothing quite like a Pasta Pomodoro. Fresh, plump tomatoes topped off with a few basil leaves. You can’t beat it. Either that, or a nice piece of fish, straight off the line and onto the grill, covered in olive oil and served with a side salad.  

Why do you love being a chef in Flims? 

It’s an incredibly friendly and welcoming place. From the first day I moved here, I felt like a belonged here. The local residents have always made me feel at home, and I love the way the country is governed. Everything is well organised, everybody is very particular, they’re precise and they have a great work ethic: exactly what you need in a kitchen. What I’ve always liked about Switzerland, and its European neighbours, is that they appreciate and respect the art of being a Chef.  They understand the beauty of cooking, and the passion that’s required to work in a kitchen. 

Which food cultures do you feel particularly drawn to or excited about?

There are few places on Earth that are as exciting as South America. It’s easy to be seduced by the beauty of countries like Mexico, Peru and Argentina, and even more so by their kitchens.  


Do you have a career highlight moment you can tell us about?

I would always go with the day I was asked by the Intercontinental Group to open an Italian restaurant in one of their hotels in Cozumel, Mexico. It’s a day I’ll always look back on and remember. It was an incredible honour to be partner with one of the leading hotel groups in the world.  

Focaccia bread Cavigilli-style
500g flour (1/2 Manitoba, 1/2 semola senatore Cappelli)
15g salt
25g sugar
18g fresh beer-yeast
25g butter
170ml warm water
100ml warm milk
20ml extra virgin olive oil
Add the salt and butter to the flour, then put to one side. 
Using a small bowl, mix the warm water and milk, then dissolve the yeast into it.  
Afterwards, add the flour to the liquids, and knead firmly for 8 minutes. Add the sugar and olive oil (this is used to give colour and will crisp up the dough), and knead for a further 2 minutes until the mixture is smooth.
Let it sit for 2hrs before re-kneading, then leave it again for another 40 minutes. 
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius and place a metal dish in the bottom of the oven to heat up. 
Prepare a separate baking tray by drizzling with some extra virgin olive oil and place the focaccia on the tray. 
Put the focaccia in the oven and pour 1 cup of hot water into the preheated metal pan and quickly close the oven door. Keep the door shut for at least the first 10 minutes of baking to trap in the steam. 
Bake the focaccia for 18 to 20 minutes, then serve the warm bread with some fresh ‘burrata’ mozzarella, Trentino speck and a delicious glass of Trilogia from Grigolli Bruno.

For more information on a trip to Flims to try Sergio's food for yourself, call 020 8246 5300 or click here.