18.02.2016. Le Sirenuse
It’s a rare thing for a young chef to be put in charge of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Rarer still in southern Italy, where respect for seniority sometimes acts as a brake on fresh new voices. But Le Sirenuse has always believed in nurturing talent, regardless of age. Matteo Temperini was only 34 when he became executive chef of the hotel’s La Sponda restaurant in 2009; his successor, Gennaro Russo, who will take over the position from the beginning of the 2016 season, is just 29.
Russo, who comes from the town of Somma Vesuviana, east of Naples, is no stranger to Le Sirenuse’s informally elegant restaurant with its fresh and local Mediterranean menu: he was Temperini’s sous-chef, or second in command, over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Prior to this he had spent three years honing his craft in Paris as chef de partie at two historic Michelin-starred establishments, Lasserre and L’Ambroisie.
The young Campanian chef’s talent was recently recognised at Cucinare, an important food fair in the north-eastern city of Pordenone, where he was one of three upcoming Italian chefs to receive the FriulAdria prize for most promising under-30 newcomer. He says that the news of his promotion at Le Sirenuse came out of the blue: “I couldn’t believe it… I was amazed, because there are few restaurants anywhere in Italy with such high standards”.
Russo says he owes a huge debt to his mentor Temperini, who coached him in “creativity, rigour and precision”. He still remembers fondly the moment when the news broke that La Sponda was to be awarded its first Michelin star: he was with Temperini in a shop in Paris, “and we both burst out crying”. But his French experiences also helped Russo to mature as a chef. “I was a diamond in the rough before I went there”, he states, adding that the cordon bleu approach he learned in Paris taught him “technical exactitude” and the lesson that “chefs don’t need to compete, we can make better progress if we all help to row the same boat”.
As for La Sponda’s new menu and culinary direction, Russo says he’s still in the process of trying out new recipes with his kitchen crew, but stresses that there will be no radical break with the “light, Mediterranean approach” pioneered by Temperini. “Respect for the territory, for top-quality local ingredients, that’s my number one rule”, he concludes. We wish him tanti auguri in his new adventure.
photo © Roberto Salomone