How did your career as a chef begin?
I started over 20 years ago. It actually started out as a kind of a joke: in Italy, you sometimes work in people’s homes, where you prepare dinner or dishes for a special event. So I did that, and afterward, I worked in catering, in fact the most well-known one in Florence. Then I decided to open my own restaurant in Florence…and now I’m here (laughs).
So how did you end up in Ukraine after all?
We [with Lorenzo and Filippo] came to Kyiv for vacation and visited some local Italian restaurants. And the quality was…not good (laughs). So, we decided to try opening our own restaurant here.
I know that you create your own recipes. How did you come up with them?
The main thing about my recipes is using products from reliable caterers and balancing out the flavors. Italian cuisine is not about using the most expensive products, cutting them and placing it all on the plate — it’s about the combination of flavors, adding spices and herbs just enough to deliver the taste of the main product. I also don’t concentrate on just one region of Italy but instead offer dishes from different regions of the country.
Most of my recipes are pasta. I think we even sell too much now. I include fish a lot as well because Ukrainians usually eat meat at home but fish - not that much. As for the products I use, most of them are made in Ukraine, except for the three pillars imported from Italy: pasta, olive oil and wine.
What would you recommend those who come to your restaurant for the first time?
Oh, that’s not simple (laughs). I try to compose the menu to satisfy all the tastes.
Alright, let’s do top-3 dishes then.
Firstly, I’d recommend pasta or risotto. The latter goes well with mushrooms or seafood, which is a popular pick. We have to warn people that we cook pasta real al dente [pasta cooked just firm to the bite]. The thing about al dente is that it’s easily digested. If you miss the moment when it is just right and continue boiling, the structure and properties of pasta change — it becomes gooey and has higher gluten rate. Our recommendations also will differ from season to season. For example, now we have cold and hot soups. Sometimes people want to have something cold and order a tomato soup with mozzarella — it’s very colorful and rich in flavor.
As for the desserts…there’s actually a small joke in our restaurant: when Lorenzo and I thought about opening the restaurant and saw the room plan, we understood that we had to make a choice between pizza and pastries. There simply wasn’t enough space for making both, so we settled for pastries. Choosing something from desserts is the most difficult to me… I think I’d name torta Julio.
I see, sounds delicious! Could you tell us what else apart from cooking pasta al dente differs your restaurant from others in Kyiv?
Surely, the original way I cook my dishes. I use spices and aromas like hot pepper, garlic, basil and oregano in great quantity. But I add them just enough to enhance the flavor of the main product, not to kill it. For example, if it’s a risotto, rice will be the main taste and everything else simply emphasizes it. Another thing is that I use olive oil instead of sunflower oil, which is popular in Ukraine. All processes in the kitchen include extra-virgin olive oil. It really influences the taste.
At Flo, we keep a close eye on gluten in our dishes. In the recent years, more and more people have developed gluten intolerance, also called celiac disease. I have a certificate from the Italian association of celiac, so I’ve learned how to keep the level of gluten at the right rate. This protein is present in flour and if you look at Italian cuisine, many dishes like pasta or pastries that have this component are simply lost to people with gluten intolerance.
Our restaurant can already offer gluten-free dishes and we are working on adding more to the menu. For example, we have special gluten-free pasta and desserts. We also work really hard to make our desserts healthy by experimenting with lowering the sugar ratio to enhance the flavor with natural ingredients like vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon.
Have you tried anything from Ukrainian cuisine?
Yes, I tried borsch, varenyky, salo… I tried so many but I don’t remember all the names (laughs). Honestly, I like Ukrainian food.
Which one would you say is your favorite?
Varenyky with cherries! That’s for sure (laughs)
Photos: Yuriy Zaluzhniy, Flo Facebook page.