One of Italy’s most exciting young chefs, Paolo tells us his story: What inspires him, what makes Italian food culture so special, and why he’s been delivering cakes to some of the most vulnerable people in his community over lockdown.
Paolo, born in 1991, is the head chef of Le Petit Royal in the Alps, on the Italian side of the imperious Mont Blanc. He was awarded his first Michelin Star in 2019, the latest of many impressive accolades, including numerous Young Chef of the Year Awards in recent times.
He hails from Piedmont, the neighbouring region to Courmayeur’s Aosta Valley, in the north-west of Italy. He is passionate about the cooking and the ingredients of the mountainous landscape in which he works.
The talented chef has become something of a celebrity in Italy in recent years, and his restaurant is part of Courmayeur's luxurious Grand Royal Hotel resort, however he has kept his feet firmly on the ground and has sought to look out for his community too.
When Corona Virus hit and northern Italians were unable to leave their homes, Paolo’s kitchen started churning out delicious cakes for local retirement homes. We asked Paolo about this, as well as many other facets of his story:
Where are you from and what did your childhood look like?
I am from Pralormo in Piedmont - an Italian through and through! Food was a huge part of my childhood and baking has always been my passion, right from a young child, so I always knew I wanted to become a pastry chef.
What is your earliest memory of falling in love with food and cooking?
My mum has always made incredible homemade baked desserts so I used to help her bake them and eat them as a young child!
Working as a top level chef demands long hours and sacrifice, why is it all worth it to you?
It's what I love. To me, cooking is a culture - it's sharing, it's pleasure, it's a way to make someone else feel good, to get to know someone well.
What is your proudest moment in your career so far?
There have been so many moments but winning the San Pellegrino Young Chef prize in 2015 was a real highlight and of course receiving my first Michelin Star in 2019.
If you could describe your cooking style in three words, what would they be?
Technique, Passion and Play.
What ideas are you trying to represent with your restaurant?
I'm trying to tell the story of our region and everything the Aosta Valley and Courmayeur offers.
How do you source your ingredients?
80% of our ingredients are produced and sourced from the Aosta Valley. We know our producers very well and have strong relationships with them. Throughout the summer months, we collect a lot of the products ourselves, we then preserve them so that we can use them throughout the winter period.
If you had to choose just one thing, what do you love to cook the most?
What does food mean to you?
Food is so much more than just what people consume. It tells you a story about people's cultures, populations and customs.
What do you do regularly to keep you present and calm?
I know that a problem always has a solution, one way or another, and that knowledge keeps me calm.
Who or what inspires you?
I get inspired wherever I go - nature, books, exhibitions, museums - anything can be inspiring.
What are your dreams for the future?
I would love to own my own restaurant, and start my own family.
What do you think exists in Italian food culture that the rest of the world could learn from?
Italian cuisine is so varied but it all comes back to one central point: Italians view cooking and the dinner table as the centre of daily life - the traditions and customs that come with it are very important.
Italian food is very regional, tell me a little about the essence of the food of the Italian alps?
Our food is very seasonal, throughout the summer we collect a lot of local produce and preserve it throughout the winter when all the valleys are covered by white snow and nature hibernates. Our summer cuisine is therefore light and fresh, whilst in winter it is full bodied and rich.
What is special about the mountains?
The mountains can't be taken for granted; they are unique, powerful and need to be valued.
Tell us about delivering cakes to people during lockdown?
During lockdown our kitchens were closed but we still had ingredients to work with that would have gone to waste. We were finding the current situation challenging, which got us thinking about people who were in far worse situations, isolated from their families and living in micro-communities, such as retirement homes. As we were not able to see our relatives either we thought the best way to spend lockdown would be cheering up other people - and what better way to do that than through cake deliveries! We visited different retirement homes in the area, and we also started catering to different needs so our baked goods became gluten-free, lactose-free and sugar-free.
What is the power of food?
Food is a vehicle to transmit passion, love and commitment. When cooking for someone else, you are taking the time to prepare the food and by doing so, you tell them your story.
If you could change the way the world and its people interact with and approach food in one way, what would it be?
I would spread food resources across the globe so they are equal and within everyone's reach.
Should we all, as individuals, cook more often?
Absolutely, dedicate time to looking after yourself and those you love through the power of eating well.