The 360-degrees chef

In his culinary career, Italian chef Michele Mingozzi has worked in five-star hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and resorts. He has also done catering work.

All this, the executive chef of Conrad Centennial Singapore says, is to fulfil his aim of being a "360 degree", all-rounded chef.

"I do not want to cook in only one style, one cuisine and in one place. I'll do everything from cooking to making pastry," says Mingozzi, 41, who heads the hotel's culinary team and supervises its food and beverage outlets.

He is from Ferrara in northern Italy, and honed his skills in an Italian hotel school. After that, he worked in his home country for about 10 years.

He then ventured overseas to work in destinations such as London, Germany, Qatar, Fiji and the Philippines, before coming to Singapore in December last year.

Some highlights in his career include working at three-Michelin-starred restaurant La Pergola in Rome; Swiss chef Anton Mosimann's Mosimann's Private Dining Club in London; and Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube in Germany.

His Italian wife Anna Silvia, 33, works in the finance industry and the couple are expecting twins.

Coming from a country where every region is proud of its produce, Mingozzi is always intrigued by passionate cooks like him.

He says: "To us, making pasta is simple, but for those coming to Italy, they always want to learn how we do it.

"Similarly, I'm fascinated when I see people make la mian or dumplings. I love to see their passion.

"When I chose to become a chef, it wasn't about anything on TV like today. It was all about straightforward food."

What are your childhood memories of food?

I remember making tagliatelle, tortellini and pumpkin dumplings with my mother and late grandmother. Every Italian knows how to make the pasta from their region.

What is your favourite hawker dish?

Laksa, as I love the mix of coconut milk and spices.

What was the first dish you learnt to cook?

When I was very young, I remember deep-frying pizza dough, to make a sandwich filled with parma ham and cheese. I put the dough in the oil a bit too fast and the oil burnt my arm.

What must you eat when you go back to Italy?

Lots of pork-based dishes. I enjoy a hearty dish of big sausages cooked in stock for 24 hours and served with mashed potatoes.

What can you eat every day?

Margherita pizza and al dente pasta with grated parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil.

What is your favourite snack?

Milk chocolate with hazelnuts. It doesn't stay in the fridge for long.

What else do you have in your fridge?

Mayonnaise, which I eat with bread. It's a habit from when I was young.

Are you an adventurous diner?

Yes, I'm quite daring. I ate monkey brains in Hong Kong without knowing what it was. It was cooked in a soup. I'm not a fan of insects; I can't eat them when they look horrible. I haven't been to Japan yet, and I would love to try all the different styles of tuna.

What's your must-have kitchen tool?

I like my whisk. I think it's amazing that such a small thing can bring such a big change.

What was your worst kitchen disaster?At a function in Fiji, we suddenly ran out of gas. It felt like a Robinson Crusoe-type of situation where you are in the middle of the South Pacific and have only one satellite phone. We had to shut down half the resort to make sure everyone helped us. If you're not organised, disasters can happen anytime.

Which disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise?

When I was about 16 years old, I was working in a family-run hotel in northern Italy. I was making meringue and put in the wrong type of sugar. The chef found out but we still baked it. We ended up receiving compliments from all the diners.

This taught me to never give up and learn to look at things from another perspective. Over there, when you end up the hero, they offer you a grappa (Italian brandy).

What keeps you going in the industry?

Being creative and developing different menus. I don't like to repeat dishes and often forget what I've done before. Recently for a tasting, I made a dessert with coconut mousse and crab salad, with gelee of young coconut and coconut foam. I learnt about the various stages of the coconut when I was in Fiji and used it for the dish.

What's your food philosophy?

To respect food and not throw anything away, unless it's rotting. As chefs, we plan menus and then buy the ingredients. But I've learnt that it's good to just open the fridge and make dinner with what you have.

If you could invite someone to a meal with you, who would you pick?

I wouldn't mind having dinner with American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who stayed in Fiji for three weeks.

Unlike many celebrities who are very private, she was very friendly. She would start her day with banana pancakes.


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