Our friends at Yaletown L’Antipasto got us an interview with their chef, Alessandro Riccobono. Sitting in the 40-seat Yaletown restaurant, we asked him about cooking, food, and the restaurant scene around Vancouver. All this, of course, as he busied himself with preparing a sauce for the night, allowing the warmth and aroma from the open kitchen to fill the cozy space.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What’s your culinary background, how did you get into cooking?
I’m originally from Sicily, Italy. I was head chef at Trafalgar’s for a year, and before that, I was in London for 8 years. London is different because ingredients are imported; there’s never a lack of selection, but here it’s nice because ingredients are fresh and local.
How would you describe Yaletown L’Antipasto to someone who’s never been here?
Authentic – because it’s a family-run , simple, and delicious…are the three words that I would use.
What advice do you have for people new to the kitchen?
Cooking is not a job, it’s a lifestyle and an art. You need to embrace it 100 percent, and it’s definitely stressful, but it gets easier with practice. It pays back because you learn so much, not just technical skills. If you can match the love of food with the techniques, then you’ll definitely be a good chef – and you need to find a nice kitchen, of course.
What is the greatest thing you’ve ever eaten, and where?
That’s a difficult question…eating is really about the whole experience, and I’ve had a lot of good experiences with food, so there’s no one particular ‘greatest’. Really, as long as you can taste the love in the food, it will be good.
Most recently, I did have a fantastic dinner at L’Abattoir in Gastown, though. It was Steak Diane…perfection, perfection, perfection.
What’s something weird that you’ve eaten?
I’ve been to India, to Thailand…(laughs) I’ve seen but haven’t tried the fried insects there. I should have, though.
In Sicily we have a lot of weird food as well, like a sandwich with spleen and lungs. The meat is first boiled, then cooked in lard, sometimes served with cheese or lemon, in a brioche bun. It’s a street food in Sicily.
What is something you love to cook?
I like to cook all types of food and experiment by combining different techniques and moving away from traditional methods. Once you have the skills from a cuisine like the very technical French, you can apply it to the simpler Italian cuisine. Of course, I also love making lasagnes, foccacias, and fresh pastas.
Where are your favourite places to eat in Vancouver?
At the moment, Gyu-Kaku for Japanese barbeque. In Vancouver, sushi in general is good because the fish is fresh and quite affordable.
It’s hard for me to eat Italian food in restaurants, though, because I’m too picky…
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
The fact that I was running a kitchen at 25 in London, then being a head chef in Vancouver. I was definitely proud of that. I’ve also been on a cooking programme in Bulgaria…that was something fun that I can be proud of.
What are some good food memories that you have?
I have a lot of memories of food at home from when I was younger, like cooking with my mom on the weekends, making gnocchi or pastas. That’s something that will always stick in my mind.
Enjoyment is about the perception of things; when the love translates into the food, that also makes the experience good
And finally, what’s your idea of a perfect date night?
(laughs) My perfect date night…I would say, a nice restaurant in Sicily on the coast. Candles, nice food, nice wine – very Italian – and nice live music.
End of Interview*