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Annie Féolde

Italy’s adopted daughter of gastronomy, Annie Féolde opens up on her secrets to making flavours of ingredients sing on a plate, why there should be much more noise about Italian cuisine, and more.

With her twinkling eyes and Chanel baubles, Annie Féolde looks more like a kindly mum than a superstar chef. But underneath the smiling, stylish veneer lies a steely business mind that has made her one of the most respected chefs in the world, and the first female chef in Italy to run a restaurant with a coveted three Michelin stars.

Enoteca Pinchiorri, the restaurant she runs together with her husband continues to thrive in Florence, but Annie has set her sights on global expansion, with her Middle East debut taking shape in The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri in DIFC, Dubai, a restaurant she opened in 2016 with a locally-based partner.

On a recent visit, we asked her to weigh in on some key issues in the world of gastronomy. Excerpts:

Annie Feolde on being a successful woman in a man’s world…
It’s no different being a woman, no extra challenges. We are all the same. I think many women would like to do this, succeed as a chef, but they cannot, because they already have too many things to do. I didn’t have children, so I could concentrate on a job like this, which is very very tough.

My advice for women chefs is to forget about husband and children! Jokes aside, it is very important to have a supportive family. Women who want to do this job need to understand it is very heavy as you don’t have any freedom. You have to work when people want to relax. That’s why, when you have kids, you need to have help at home. You have to love this, you have to love people. You need a passion. And you need a good palate.

…On the secret to delicious food:
Good ingredients and knowledge of cooking, plus creativity. If you have good produce, you will get a good result.

I’m not classical but I prefer to have the traditional roots in my cooking. I have to show that I understand what they did in the past, but at the same time, I want to change and improve according to the possibilities and necessities of the modern day. Possibilities in terms of equipment, for example, with new technology – cooking is much easier nowadays. Everything from knives and saucepans, there are so many improvements. I also want to make cooking lighter than before – it should be nice looking, very high quality ingredients, with imagination and creativity, but also lighter, because we have to take care of our bodies. We eat too much nowadays!

…On the importance of ingredients:
Everything has to be clean, biologic, of the best and freshest quality and well chosen. It has to be cooked immediately, that is the way to have great flavour in a dish. You have to know about different qualities of a particular ingredient, otherwise you can buy a poor quality product, and then you have to know how to cook it – which is not so easy either.

We send some of our key ingredients such as the Burrata, Parmesan and olive oil straight from Italy. Apart from that, here in Dubai, suppliers can provide some great quality ingredients. The first time I visited one of our major suppliers, I was even a little bit jealous, as they have better Italian items than we can find in Italy!

…On using local produce in Dubai:
The restaurant menu was conceived around what produce would be available here on a regular basis in Dubai. Our next research will be using produce from here. Of course, we are open to this – I have to look more into this. We are focusing on perfecting what we are doing now, making our customers happy, then this will be the next step.

…On Italy vs. France (in her food):
I’m completely Italian in my cooking, I don’t want to remember anything from France, I don’t combine French with Italian. I love trying different cuisines – I go to Japan often, for example, and I love Japanese cuisine – but I will never copy it.

Nowadays, I only have the possibility to cook whenever I’m on holiday in France. Even then, I want to show my family, and we have some friends who are Italian, so I always cook Italian.

…On the value of Michelin stars:
We were never waiting for stars, my husband first saw our name in the guide because he bought it, and all of a sudden he was jumping because he found our name on it! Our philosophy is of cooking for people with passion throughout, the recognition follows naturally.

We had lots of ups and downs between our second and third stars (and we also lost our third star for a year in between) as we had a big fire in our wine cellar – which destroyed us, economically and physically – and we were also expanding internationally in Japan at the time.

But we carried on. We understood that we had the same passion, the same clientele, as the distinction between two and three stars didn’t seem to matter too much to our customers, and we kept our precise and clean approach. We invested a lot of money into making a brand new kitchen, but as it was necessary for our evolution, not because we were chasing Michelin stars.

…On the eternal popularity of Italian cuisine:
Simplicity and freshness. That’s it.

These details are the most important. The culinary philosophy is well explained in France, and is also supported by the government but in Italy, it’s the contrary. I’m afraid Italian people don’t communicate well enough about their cuisine, they are a little bit shy when it comes to this. More people need to talk well about our job and the possibilities that people can have in coming to an Italian restaurant, the pleasure and the comfort – it is not just a question of filling the stomach, it is a way of tasting several things we have never seen before, it’s a way to discover things.

Words by Sudeshna Ghosh.

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