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Interview with Culinary Mischief’s Gabriele Bertaccini
September 4, 2014
Candid sits down with Chef Gabriele Bertaccini, the Executive Chef and founder of Il Tocco Food, and the man behind the award-winning, exclusive dining experience, Culinary Mischief, to talk about his luxury 6-course shared meals, set in unique secret locations across London, Arizona, Los Angeles, New York and Florence.
What was it like growing up in Florence?
Lots of good food, great wine! I would say that Florence, and Tuscany–Florence in general, is one of the finest cities in the world in terms of lifestyle. We are really spoilt just because we are surrounded by beauty so that any time we travel to many beautiful places, we still feel like there is no place like Florence. I’ve seen many many cities in my life and I love them but there is nothing like Florence.
Where are you based now?
I am based in Los Angeles but I travel a lot: LA, London, then of course Florence; my company operates in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as New York and Florence. We travel a lot and the travelling component is very important because it really inspires us with what we do, the dishes that we make, the events that we host, the locations that we scout.
Did you used to cook with your family?
I used to cook with my mum, absolutely. My mum – like many other Italian mum – cooked a lot! I used to join her in the kitchen all the time, although I had a much more clinical approach to cooking. The cooking my mum used to do is stamped in my head and I can’t replicate it. I thought a lot about why I wasn’t able to replicate it and realised that was because of the memories that are associated to the food.
To me, food is sentimental: I don’t cook for myself, or to show people what a great chef I am – I mean yes, I’m good but there are others who are better. The reason why I cook is to remind people of a very specific moment in their lives – maybe a specific trip or whatever that’s going to be – but food must be associated with a memory or a moment.
Why did you leave Italy?
For me, travelling was a very important component that was connected to my creativity. I always say that I never believe that a chef can be as great as he can be without travelling.
My goal was to be as inspired as I could be by new places, by new cultures, by a new way of living, by new foods, but also to share my heritage and my cultural with the people around me.
Tell us a little bit about Il Tocco
I opened Il Tocco food when I moved to the States and it was born out of the desire to have people undergoing a true Italian dining experience: the passion that we have, the food that we cook and the dinner parties that we throw
. It’s a way for us to really educate clients to slow down, enjoy life, enjoy friendships, and get to know friends and family through food!
The dining table is much more than just a place we go to eat: life revolves it. Our expectations, our dreams, happy moments, angry moments, they all happening around the dining table, and that’s really what I wanted to bring to the US.
Tell us about Culinary Mischief. Is it a progression of Il Tocco?
Well actually Il Tocco was a progression from Culinary Mischief. Culinary Mischief was born first around the time that the underground events began rising in popularity.
When I was in the States, every Sunday I used to have friends over for dinner all the time and this gathering started being from 8 close friends to 15-20, 20-25 sometimes even 30, and one night my friend turned around and said to me – after a long dinner that was about 5 hours – and said, “Gabe, you should start doing this on a bigger scale” and I thought, “Yeah, right! I’m probably not going to do it”. Then I gave it a little bit of thought, look around and realised that there wasn’t anything like it. There was a market for it but there was also a market for something a little bit more unique: a five-star-plus experience.
How did you achieve this?
I wanted for guests to feel like they had just walking inside a three Michelin star restaurant. However, I didn’t want it to feel stuffy or uncomfortable. We achieved this by merging a few elements together.
One was to limited the number to 30 guests per night; every event would have a 6-course menu with 6 different wines, and we started doing that once every two months.
The event was invitation only; you would have to either receive an invite or hear by word of mouth. You would have no way of finding out about it unless you received an email, and the way to receive an email was to sign up and register on the website or hear about it through word of mouth.
As well as all this, the location changed each time and would not be disclosed until 3 days before the event. The menu and theme were also kept secret until you showed up. Each event was, and still is, a once in a lifetime experience.
Can you give us some examples of themes you’ve had or is it top secret?
I can actually tell you I am working on the next Culinary Mischief theme; it’s going to be tomato dinner, so we going to have 6 courses, everything tomatoes! But in the past it really depends on the season and the
In the past we have done a spring time dinner called Primavera, which is all spring milieu vegetables, but of course we also have some lamb in there.
The secret of Italian cooking is simplicity and it’s about letting the ingredients speak for themselves. I always say that I’m not there to put so much of myself on the plate; I am there to put ingredients I selected on the plate and I’m there to put as much of my heritage and my culture in the dish as possible. I’m not one of those chefs that wants to create a dish which, when somebody eats it, they say “Oh, it must be Gabriele Bertacinni”. This is not me. What I want is for them to do is grab a bite and say “This reminds me of the caprese salad I had in Sicily or Capri”.
How do you scout the locations for these events?
After we create the menu, it comes down to finding a location – it’s not an easy task. Often what happens is that some of my guests have beautiful private locations and properties that they would love to see coming alive, so we often use those but we have done events in golf courses, plane hangers, in the plain old desert. Here in London we have done it in the County Hall Library overlooking Big Ben and Parliament; we have done it in the Ladies’ Smoking Room at St Pancras. What I’m looking for when I’m scouting a location is walking in and having that “Wow” reaction.
What’s next for you?
Culinary Mischief is going strong and we are actually planning for our next event, so we have that coming up.
We are working on a restaurant in the Uk. It’s actually going to be in the countryside; I wanted a space that reminds me a lot of Tuscany I wanted a destination restaurant – a place where people can relax for a couple of days, where they can stay, visit the town and also eat.
I’ve actually been learning so much about English culture, British people and the produce you had here. The seasonal artisan products that this country produces amazed me; it’s a very inspiring place.
I just filmed my first few shows with ITV’s Lorraine, so we are popping on British screens very soon.
Also, in LA, there’s some talk of opening up a restaurant. There is a lot going on: we are also actually working on a Culinary Mischief book which actually explains and describes our journey over the past 5 years and all our culinary delights!
The book is all about stories. Food is all about passion and life is all about passion and there is nothing more beautiful in my heart than sitting at a table rolling up my sleeves, having a good bottle of wine, talking, sharing stories and at the same time, enjoying a great meal! Food is an equalizer: it brings people together and allows them to connect. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your heritage is. Food has the power to bring all together and it has always had that power in my life.