Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In Italy, top woman chef mixes it up with sunshine flavours from tiny island

In Italy, top woman chef mixes it up with sunshine flavours from tiny island

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Martina Caruso poses outdoor at her restaurant in Salina, one of the Eolian sicilian islands. afp

In Italy, top woman chef mixes it up with sunshine flavours from tiny island

Award-winning young Italian chef Martina Caruso’s love of food is in her blood – and she has the tattoos to prove it.

At just 29, Caruso has become a hit in the world of haute cuisine by using the sunshine flavours of her tiny volcanic island of Salina and giving a modern twist to traditional recipes.

Earlier this year, she was named Italy’s female chef of 2019 – just three years after she became the youngest Italian to win a Michelin star at the family-run Signum restaurant and hotel on Salina.

The flavours from the idyllic island infuse Caruso’s dishes and her favourite ingredients are even tattooed on her arm: garlic, oil, hot pepper, octopus and the sea.

From a young age she watched her father Michele, who as Signum’s chef was devoted to traditional recipes.

“At first, my father did not give me any room, he did not want me to become a chef, a tiring job,” Caruso says.

But she flew the nest for three years to train at a cookery school near Sicily’s capital Palermo.

Caruso later took her place as a chef in the family restaurant, where she showed off her technical and creative ways of cooking.

“I convinced my father by showing him what I knew how to do.”

Her mantra is “simplicity”, says Caruso, who was awarded the female chef of the year title by the Italian Michelin guide and Veuve Clicquot in March.

“But simple doesn’t mean it’s easy,” she laughs.

In one of her appetisers, Caruso takes “bagna cauda”– a typical dish from Piedmont in northern Italy, which consists of garlic and anchovies, but gives it a Sicilian kick by using sea urchins.

Salina is known for its capers, which she makes into ice cream, something to be savoured in small quantities due to the potent flavour of the tiny green berries.

Boils down to ‘home cooking’

Her menu also includes chargrilled moray eel, which she cooks on embers in her garden. The delicate white fish is scarcely eaten on the island today but she is keen to continue using the traditional ingredient.

Another local speciality is her “mezzi paccheri”, short tube-shaped pasta with an intense squid sauce, based on a recipe made by fishermen’s families.

“French cuisine is very much based on technique, the marriage of flavours. To think up a dish, Italian chefs may be more traditional, and that’s what I do by listening to the country’s elders,” Caruso says.

However, Caruso’s mother, Clara, the mayor of the small town of Malfa, has never even cooked an egg.

Instead of the kitchen, Clara turned her attention over the course of 30 years to transforming a number of old pastel-coloured properties into what has become a boutique hotel in Salina, an island of just 26 square kilometres.

She has also tried to increase tourism on the island by inviting artists into a former palace that has been turned into a cultural centre.

Salina was featured on the silver screen in the film Il Postino, which was shot there 25 years ago. The classic is screened every day during the summer at an outdoor cafe on the island.

At the restaurant, Caruso’s father Michele still takes care of ingredients in the early morning and her brother Luca works as a manager. “We try to make the young people of the island work,” she says.

“My father was taught by his mother. In Italy, the cuisine of ‘the mamma’, home cooking, is fundamental,” the chef says.

The feminine cult in the kitchen can be seen in the large number of Italian women who have been distinguished by Michelin awards.

For Caruso, the Michelin title is “an important moment” in terms of her image, but it also gives her a pretext to talk about being a woman working in haute cuisine.

She makes sure she works with a diverse team.

Her rise to fame has not prompted her to leave the island, whose population goes down to just 2,000 in the winter.

“I can explore the world in the winter, but I won’t leave Salina, it’s home,” she says.

MOST VIEWED

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • NA, Senate set for bill on ‘emergency’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested the Senate to convene an extraordinary meeting to review the draft law that aims to put the Kingdom in a state of emergency after the bill reached the National Assembly (NA) on Friday. The draft law, which was approved

  • Temporarily laid-off workers to get just $70

    Prime Minister Hun Sen announced changes in the allowances for temporarily laid-off garment workers from receiving 60 per cent of the minimum wage to a flat $70 because factories cannot pay, he said. Workers will also not be required to attend training courses after more than 100 factories

  • Tourists can now prolong their stay

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said tourists holding Visa T and arriving in the Kingdom after January 1 will be allowed to prolong their stay until they are able to return home. The decision comes as Cambodia and most countries take measures to

  • PM: Law likely next week

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be approved after the Khmer New Year, though he said there is a slim chance of enforcement given the current