He is the most Italian among all Ukrainian chefs by nationality and the mostly Ukrainian among all Italian chefs by heart. Stefano came to Ukraine about 18 years ago by an invitation from Kyiv's businessmen to develop an ambitious restaurant project, then there was an experience in Kharkiv and finally he appeared in Poltava since met a wonderful Ukrainian woman, got married, got a son and settled in Ukraine.
Now they are totally enjoying the life. He makes his contribution not only in Poltava region but pan-Ukrainian restaurant industry day by day.
"Just try to name the product which is out of region's gastronomy landscape. Any idea? - smiles Stefano. “Then add to all these treasures divine beauty of nature, rich history and art heritage, well saved traditions and warm hearted people and you would understand why I name Poltava "my native town".
We met with Stefano Antoniolli in stunning Verholy Relax Park in Sosnovka about 30km from Poltava. Here he is a Brand Chef, general manager, creative genius and...Big Papa of two featured restaurants.
FOOD&FOREST is the first restaurant curated by Stefano Antoniolly and a visiting card of the Verholy complex as well as the divine pines and progressive stylish design. "Forest" restaurant is serving la cuisine Ukrainian nouvelle creatively interpreted by Chef. Local products of the highest quality and freshness are the basic of the cuisine. Meat and wildfowl in combination with vegetables, wild berries and herbs take the main part of the menu.
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FISH&FUSION restaurant, the "urban" member of Stefano's family, is located in Poltava, right in front of Solnechny park, which is one of the town's green favorites. "Fish&Fusion" restaurant totally comports to its name. Seafood and fish are the basic of the menu as well as sea&sailing-themed interior. You could imagine yourself appearing on board of an old fisherman boat surrounded by its attributes: aged copper, dark wood, stone. So it goes our conversation with Stefano.
Great Chef, first of all, is a great, versatile and interesting person. Then he (or she) is a set of intelligence, culture, a master of life, a leader, an absolute professional and the one who is never getting tired of learning. Skills, knowledge and competences which are necessary to be a great Chef are different in the arena of a carrie. At the start, you should work really hard and you need more practice. Then, when you (no future time with WHEN and IF) become more mature you need another approach – to be more of a teacher who really loves this job.
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That means you have to give all your knowledge to the team and develop the gastronomic culture in yourself and in the others' minds. You have to teach your philosophy and share your point of view about your culinary mission. Absolutely the most important things about being great Chef are the passion and the play. You should have a balance between the child who lives inside of you and you - the adult. Becoming a great Chef is a magic combination of talent, experience and education. And with every chef it is a different; it is a very personal story and that’s why every chef has his/her own style and signature.
The haute cuisine is your own signature, is the mirror of your professional knowledge, your way to see the gastronomic culture, results of your experience, emotions, studies, researches and tests that you face every day. I think in Europe you can find it in every great RESTAURANT. And when I say "restaurant” I don’t mean fast food or café. In Ukraine there are not so many really great restaurants (for now at least) so it is difficult for young cook to get real experience. That is why they have to go out of the country to study and practice profession or learn by themselves (which could be successful quite rare). In Ukraine there are not so many people with great gastronomic experience and that’s why sometimes people do not understand some creative offers of the Chefs. But from the other side Chef has to come out to the guest and explain what he is doing and why, the idea behind the certain dish or tastes/ingredients' combination. And of course, Chef and his restaurant should provide really a good service. There is also quite frequent a barrier from the side of restaurant's owner who wants the investments return fast that dictates "safe game" strategy with no space for creativity. And in this case Chefs are not free to emerge and invent and they are repressed down by the fear. In this country we need to upgrade the restaurants' level.. In this moment, Ukraine is ready only for 50%.
Specifics of Ukrainian cuisine
The future of Ukrainian cuisine is very clear: there is only one way - to grow up. There are so many interesting products with great potential that need only to be developed for the goods of Ukraine. Here is a great importance of a gastronomic culture and tradition that is a good base for building the future of Ukrainian cuisine.
Food& drinks demands and preferences
The specifics is very different and it is going proportionally with the social state of the country - we need to teach the customers to upgrade the gastronomy in all social layers. The preferences about food and beverages here unite all the country with the idea to eat and to drink high quality products.
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My favorite ingredients in Italy and Ukraine are all the products that I use in my kitchens. They differ by the seasons, by the people that sell or produce them. Ukrainian products are beautiful, and people who produce them with that serious approach can't really do more or better for having a constant quality ingredients. There are already so many farmers who - with love and passion - are growing fantastic and very special products for Ukraine.
Specific ”food memories” and favorite dishes
My memories of the childhood are so bright and "huge" - from the Mum’s Sunday lunches when she was cooking home-made pasta and up to Papa’s pickled herbs and mushrooms, those juicy salads and fantastic risotto. I never forget the time spent in parents’ restaurant of my friends where the cooks were given for degustation all the food for banquets, dinners, lunches and where I was absorbed in kitchen's backstage. That was fantastic and from there I took that hot passion for the restaurant’s role in my life. It is possible that one day I will write a book about my childhood memories because my family is full of traditions as well as my country.
The favorite food is an excellent food, the one cooked of the fresh quality products, cooked by carrying hands with loving heart. And the favorite dish is the one that transmits emotions. My favorite dish to cook is the next new one.
Interviewed by Irina Mettus
Photos provided by Stefano Antoniolli