Interview with the Chef: Paolo Balestrazzi

Interview with the Chef: Paolo Balestrazzi

We had the privilege of sitting down with Hermitage Hotel’s head chef, Paolo Balestrazzi to find out more about the man behind the delectable dishes. His passion for the very finest ingredients, used in a simple but powerful way, is inspirational and it’s something w-e can all place more emphasis on in our own cooking. We’re excited to share one of Paolo’s signature recipes, for you to try at home.

Where did you train to be a chef?

I had no professional training as such; I shadowed different chefs while working at a multitude of different restaurants. I learnt the importance of working within a team and I think I only considered myself to be a chef when I truly understood the importance of motivating and leading a team.


How would you describe the style of your cooking?

The style of my cooking is traditional, but my dishes are revisions of traditional recipes with innovative twists. My style is based around using the very freshest raw ingredients in order to obtain the right characteristics within my dishes, especially local produce. It really allows me to deliver the rich flavours that my dishes and guests deserve. 

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

Having grown up living on a farm, I learned the value of using the finest fresh products that my father produced. He produced dairy and meats, which are two of my favourite ingredients today. I will only use the finest raw ingredients in order to produce great tasting dishes.

I gained experience working with Spigaroli Massimo, who is nicknamed The Farming Chef thanks to his deep roots in his family’s farms. I worked with him for 5 winters at his Michelin-starred restaurant where we produced a signature ham fillet dish, which is famous worldwide. Spigaroli Massimo also cooked for the Royal Family – I was very fortunate to have studied and developed under such inspirational chefs.

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

Although not one specific dish, I love to cook and prepare buffets with dishes that are simple and highlight the beautiful ingredients. Even though it is simple to say you should use fresh cuts, I believe it is very difficult to actually find these. It’s my years of experience have helped me to master this art of selecting ingredients.


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

Spaghetti Pomodoro because it is simple and tasty – however it is still very difficult to cook, as it is hard to give it true depth of flavour. But using the freshest and finest local produce allows me to draw out the flavors in those core ingredients. It is more of a challenge to serve simple dishes, such as this one, in comparison to elaborate dishes such as oysters and caviar.

What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?

Meat and parmesan cheese – but it has to be the finest and freshest!

Why do you love being a chef in Elba?

Having worked as a chef in Elba for over 30 years, I am yet to get bored. I feel that my cooking experience grows in tandem with the hotel, constantly leading me to strive to produce the best possible dishes that my team and I can. Every day poses a new goal and once I’ve achieved one, it is immediately replaced with the next, keeping my menus fresh and innovative. The main challenge that I face is running four separate restaurants and simultaneously keeping them all at the highest possible level of service and quality. But I have the support of my 47-person strong team, which makes it possible.

Apart from Italian food, are there any other food cultures that you feel particularly drawn to or excited about?

Italian cuisine is my main influence and having worked with it for so long I feel this is where my cooking is at its best. Although I have also worked in France for some time, I am still most passionate about Italian food. No matter the origin, it is most important to use local products in order to achieve the characteristics of any dish – so if it is a French dish using the freshest local French products is the best way to achieve those flavours.

Do you have a career highlight you could tell us about?

My philosophy is that “a good chef can succeed only with a good and strong team”. Every member of the team has to work together as one unit in order to grow and succeed. The most important attribute within the team is respect. Respect for each member of the team and how we interact – to put yourself on their level and see it from their eyes. I think when I realised that my team was working in such a way, that was the highlight of my career so far.

Share with us what you and your team aim to create on the special Fuoco di Bosco party on Saturday nights throughout the summer. What can guests look forward to?

My biggest challenge is this special barbeque every Saturday night because I always aim to surprise the guests with unique and exciting dishes, presented in an innovative way.

How would you describe the style of your cooking?

The style of my cooking is traditional, but my dishes are revisions of traditional recipes with innovative twists. My style is based around using the very freshest raw ingredients in order to obtain the right characteristics within my dishes, especially local produce. It really allows me to deliver the rich flavours that my dishes and guests deserve. 

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

Having grown up living on a farm, I learned the value of using the finest fresh products that my father produced. He produced dairy and meats, which are two of my favourite ingredients today. I will only use the finest raw ingredients in order to produce great tasting dishes.

I gained experience working with Spigaroli Massimo, who is nicknamed The Farming Chef thanks to his deep roots in his family’s farms. I worked with him for 5 winters at his Michelin-starred restaurant where we produced a signature ham fillet dish, which is famous worldwide. Spigaroli Massimo also cooked for the Royal Family – I was very fortunate to have studied and developed under such inspirational chefs.

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

Although not one specific dish, I love to cook and prepare buffets with dishes that are simple and highlight the beautiful ingredients. Even though it is simple to say you should use fresh cuts, I believe it is very difficult to actually find these. It’s my years of experience have helped me to master this art of selecting ingredients.


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

Spaghetti Pomodoro because it is simple and tasty – however it is still very difficult to cook, as it is hard to give it true depth of flavour. But using the freshest and finest local produce allows me to draw out the flavors in those core ingredients. It is more of a challenge to serve simple dishes, such as this one, in comparison to elaborate dishes such as oysters and caviar.

What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?

Meat and parmesan cheese – but it has to be the finest and freshest!

Why do you love being a chef in Elba?

Having worked as a chef in Elba for over 30 years, I am yet to get bored. I feel that my cooking experience grows in tandem with the hotel, constantly leading me to strive to produce the best possible dishes that my team and I can. Every day poses a new goal and once I’ve achieved one, it is immediately replaced with the next, keeping my menus fresh and innovative. The main challenge that I face is running four separate restaurants and simultaneously keeping them all at the highest possible level of service and quality. But I have the support of my 47-person strong team, which makes it possible.

Apart from Italian food, are there any other food cultures that you feel particularly drawn to or excited about?

Italian cuisine is my main influence and having worked with it for so long I feel this is where my cooking is at its best. Although I have also worked in France for some time, I am still most passionate about Italian food. No matter the origin, it is most important to use local products in order to achieve the characteristics of any dish – so if it is a French dish using the freshest local French products is the best way to achieve those flavours.

Do you have a career highlight you could tell us about?

My philosophy is that “a good chef can succeed only with a good and strong team”. Every member of the team has to work together as one unit in order to grow and succeed. The most important attribute within the team is respect. Respect for each member of the team and how we interact – to put yourself on their level and see it from their eyes. I think when I realised that my team was working in such a way, that was the highlight of my career so far.

Share with us what you and your team aim to create on the special Fuoco di Bosco party on Saturday nights throughout the summer. What can guests look forward to?

My biggest challenge is this special barbeque every Saturday night because I always aim to surprise the guests with unique and exciting dishes, presented in an innovative way.

 Paolo's traditional Tuscan soup - La Ribollita

The name Ribollita directly translated means "reboiled", which references the important step of reheating the soup as part of the recipe's method.

Ingredients

  • 400g dried white beans
  • 400g black cabbage
  • 700g savoy cabbage
  • Aromatics (1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots)
  • 300g Swiss chard
  • 300g peeled tomatoes
  • 2 potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper
  • Leftover bread

Cover the beans with several inches of cold water and soak them overnight in the refrigerator. Drain and whip three-quarters of the beans with an electric mixer until creamy. Transfer the creamed beans, along with the whole beans, to a heavy pot and add a couple of litres of salty water. Bring the bean broth to a gentle simmer for about an hour, adding water if necessary. 

In a large pan, add eight spoons of olive oil, onion and chopped garlic, and cook until browned. Then add a bit of thyme (not too much), carrots, and sliced celery. Wash and cut the rest of the vegetables and add them to the pan, along with the peeled tomatoes and let it stew for a few minutes. 

Combine the bean broth and vegetable stew in the pan. Cut the bread into thin slices and add them to the soup. Stir to combine and cook for a further few minutes before removing from the heat. 

Let the soup sit for as long as possible, ideally overnight, and then reboil for a few minutes before drizzling with olive oil and serving warm with freshly-cracked black pepper.

 

To experience Paolo’s fine fare first hand, visit Hotel Hermitage on the gorgeous isle of Elba. With stunning beaches, quaint towns, abundant history and the warmest locals, this is an incredible place for a holiday for so many reasons.

To find out more, call 020 8246 5300 and your Travel Consultant will inspire you with itineraries tailored to your family’s needs.