Vittorio Greco, Italian Master Chef at ITC Hotels, believes that the best way to learn about life and food is to travel
“I always try new techniques and constantly experiment to reach my own personal bar of excellence,” says Italian Master Chef Vittorio Greco, who is in charge of ITC’s Ottimo chain of restaurants – at ITC Maurya New Delhi, ITC Grand Chola Chennai and ITC Gardenia Bangalore. “I love to play with old favourites and my dishes are generally rooted in classic flavours. That being said, the plate is my playground and the world is my inspiration. I like to offer fun, playful renditions of the old favourites, in dramatic and colourful avatars.”
His passion for creating Italian specialities with a special touch to deliver unique culinary experiences for diners has brought Chef Greco recognition.
Chef Greco’s love for food goes back to his childhood in the South of Italy with its wealth of ingredients and fresh produce, and in a family where the kitchen was the core of the home. “My earliest food memory is sitting on the porch in the sunlight with my grandfather as he dished out the wisdom of life over warm croissants and espresso. The heady scent of Italian coffee still reminds me of those idyllic days. As a child, I was often recruited by my grandmother to help shape the pasta for the evening meal.
“I love to play with old favourites and my dishes are generally rooted in classic flavours”
It was a fun time of bonding and kinship for us. Her deft handling of the dough to create beautiful, simple art fired my imagination.” It was thanks to such experiences, that young Vittorio developed an interest in food and cooking, and absorbed the little details and nuances of different ingredients and dishes.
In 1985, Chef Greco received a diploma from the Florence Institute of Cooking and commenced his journey – both culinary and actual – starting from the island of Elba to Tuscany and thence on to Piedmont. As he travelled through Italy, he found that the little hamlets he passed along the way were a treasure trove of indigenous ingredients and heritage recipes that make up the true mosaic of Italian cuisine. And he observed that the unifying feature of Italian cuisine is its focus on good quality ingredients and mindfully prepared food, even though the flavours may vary from region to region.
After setting up a seafood restaurant with his wife in Parma, Chef Greco moved to Australia in 2004 where, as executive chef and owner, he took on different roles and responsibilities, all the while delighting diners with his rendition of Italian cuisine. Of the firm belief that travel is a great education, Chef Greco travelled widely whenever possible. His exposure to different ingredients, styles of cooking and culinary traditions inspired his creativity.
The unifying feature of Italian cuisine is its focus on good quality ingredients and mindfully prepared food
“I believe that the life experiences of a chef are reflected on his plate and the best way to gain life experiences is to travel.” He says. “I love to travel and I believe that is what keeps me young at heart.”
This love for travel eventually brought him to India. He finds similarities between Italy and India in terms of the wealth of ingredients, how the cuisine changes from region to region, and at times from every few kilometres apart. While overseeing the Italian restaurants at ITC Hotels, he realised that the average Indian guest is well-travelled and knowledgeable about food, which spurs him to add a twist to a dish that in turn sparks new interest in diners.
In true Italian tradition Chef Greco enjoys a glass of wine with a meal and reminisces of the deep connection between Italian food and wine in Italy. “In the last few decades, Italians have become more selective about wines, but wine and food are a way of life for us. It is a part of our social structure and the bond on which memories are made. Wine is a very important component of a meal; nothing is more satisfying than a good glass of wine during a meal and I don’t think we need a particular occasion to have a good glass of wine.”
Wine and food are a way of life. It is a part of our social structure and the bond on which memories are made
Chef Greco also finds that cooking with wine adds a lot of character to the dish, bringing an elusive nuance to the flavour of the overall offering. For this reason, he believes, wine has been traditionally used in a wide variety of Italian foods – from appetizers to desserts. And he says `this golden favourite’ is making a comeback, as the latest trend in Italian cooking is with wine and alcohol.
Chef Greco has been blessed with many mentors on his culinary journey and each of them has contributed to the formation and evolution of his culinary philosophy. And carrying forward the mentoring tradition he readily imparts his knowledge to this team, sharing with them also his enduringculinary philosophy of traditional flavours, of cooking with fresh and local produce, and of the simplicity and authenticity, which are the foundations of his culinary style, always expressed with his signature creativity and no small dash of showmanship! These are all the elements that meld to create memorable dining experiences that gladden his heart as well as those of the diners who are lucky enough to have him cook for them.