Foodie Confidential: Hey, pesto perfect

Chef Daniele Sperindio, who heads the kitchen at Open Door Policy in Tiong Bahru comes from Genoa, Italy, which is famous for pesto.

The green sauce is made using fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, and is often served tossed with pasta.

On making good pesto, the 27-year-old says it is important to ensure that the basil is not overheated by the whirring of the food processor or blender, or it will turn black and bitter.

He says: "Something I like to do is to put a couple of ice cubes while blending the mixture to lower the temperature."

He has been in Singapore for three years, and recounts how his Peranakan wife, Ms Petrina Choo, 30, a communications and external relations executive, surprised him by making perfectly hand-pounded pesto recently.

"One day after work, my wife surprised me with her version of hand-pounded pesto, using the Peranakan mortar and pestle," he says. "She told me she did some research on it, and I felt that it was perfect."

The couple met two years ago and they share a common interest in food and travel. They do not have children.

At the age of 13, he started working part-time in restaurants in his hometown for about two years, doing tasks such as transferring wines from barrels to bottles and preparing cheeses to be served.

His parents, who worked as nurses, gave him the green light to work at such a young age, as long as it did not interfere with school. "I worked not because of the pay, but because I wanted the experience of working in a restaurant," he said.

He then enrolled at the Professional Institute Marco Polo in Genoa, and graduated at age 19 as a professional technician in food and beverage operations, with a specialisation in dietary restrictions.

"In my specialisation, I learnt about creating balanced diets. It is useful and interesting to write menus that ensure a balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein," he says.

On graduating, he worked in Paris, Monte Carlo and Miami.

He decided to move to Asia because he was interested in its myriad cuisines and landed a job as sous chef of Italian restaurant Alkaff Mansion Ristorante, at Telok Blangah Green.

On how he got the job, the middle of three children says that before working here, he was head chef of Italian restaurant La Lupa Di Roma in Miami.

"I applied for jobs in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, and Alkaff Mansion Ristorante gave me a reply first," he says.

Besides that restaurant, he also did consulting work for Zzapi Pizza Bar in River Valley Road, owned by the Senso Group, before joining Open Door Policy, the 60-seat restaurant managed by chef-owner Ryan Clift of the Tippling Club.

Chef Sperindio also knows his wines. He holds an intermediate Sommelier certification from the United States sommelier Association, a six-month-long part-time course he took while working in Miami.

Why did you want to learn about being a sommelier?

I took this course as I feel that it is very important for a chef to have a good wine pairing menu. I'm able to understand more about the structure of wines when I'm drinking it too.

What is your favourite wine?

I love red wines. I like a Brunello di Montalcino, because of the depth, tannins, aromas and flavour of the Sangiovese Grosso grape. If I wanted a table wine, I would go with a nice rustic Bonarda.

You were a head chef in Miami before becoming a sous chef at Alkaff Mansion Ristorante. Why did you accept a position that was less than what you held in your previous job?

Whenever I work in a different country, I try to get a lower position to have time to analyse how the kitchen works. Most of the time, the flavours are very different.

Having lived in Singapore for three years, what is your favourite local dish?

I love black pepper crabs and chilli crabs that you can get at hawker centres. I like the coconut flavour in laksa as well.

What is your take on Peranakan cuisine?

I enjoy all the spices. I love ayam buah keluak, a spicy chicken dish with the black buah keluak nuts, and also kueh talam and the rainbow-coloured kueh lapis.

Do you enjoy local fruit such as durians?

Yes, I do. I remember the first time I had durian, it was with one of the owners of the Senso Group, and he was French. We were in a car and he asked me if I had ever tried a durian. I told him that I had not and we saw one uncle selling durians by the road, and we bought a few to try. The first time I ate it, I bit through the seed. It was a very embarrassing and funny experience. I love the flavour of the durian as it is both intense and pungent.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I love chocolate. My mother said when I was a kid, I would always think about chocolate. So whenever I did any colouring, I would always use brown. I would go for a dark, bitter Valrhona chocolate.

What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?

Whenever I cook, I always have fresh basil, olives, capers and cherry tomatoes. These are common ingredients found in Italy and in Italian cooking.

What do you think is a kitchen tool that homecooks cannot do without?

For me, it would be a KitchenAid mixer. You can make a lot of things with it - bread, pasta, all the different types of dough. It's a really good tool for people who enjoy cooking.

Do you cook at home?

I don't usually cook at home. The only time I cook is for my wife, as a treat. I'd rather prepare instant noodles instead of cooking for myself.

What are your plans?

So far, my style of food has always been a fusion of traditional casual Italian and French cuisines, but now it's taking a different direction, thanks to chef Ryan Clift's influence. As for the future, I'm looking to work in fine dining.

What would your last meal be?

Assorted Mediterranean anchovies; trofie, a short, thin, twisted pasta, with pesto sauce; veal shank; a fresh fruit tart; Bonarda for nostalgia and finishing off with a sip of Amaro Montenegro

This article was first published on June 22, 2014.
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