An Interview with Chef Luca Giovanni Pappalardo

During my last trip to Bologna, Italy, I had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with Chef Luca Giovanni Pappalardo. He graciously agreed to an interview and answered my many questions enabling me to write an article for Food, Wine, Travel Magazine. (You can read it here.) In addition to talking cooking, he’s passed along his advice for enjoying his adopted city. I’ve translated his responses so that you may enjoy the wisdom of this creative chef.

You were born in Sicily and traveled around the world a lot. Why did you end up in Bologna?

I am Sicilian and like all Sicilians I am a citizen of the world. I feel at home everywhere, and as long as there is a kitchen, I can live even in the middle of the Arctic desert. I chose Bologna as a base 20  years ago. I went to university in this magnificent city with all of the porticoes and towers. If you look at it from the top of one of its hills you seem to see the New York skyline—a medieval New York—all red, like the bricks of the buildings in Queens. I lived for years in Berlin, and I toured Europe far and wide. From these trips, I realized that I could learn a lot about cooking. I went knocking on the doors of my neighbors—Turks, Armenians, Germans, Australians. I made friends with them, and then we talked for hours cooking while we cooked. They were beautiful experiences. Bologna then always called me back because among the most important reasons of my constant returns is my family—a patient companion and two beautiful children, my sources of strength and courage.

How long have you been a chef? Who influenced you??

I have been cooking for more than 10 years now, the 10 best and longest years of my life. I was a kitchen boy while I was studying so I could attend the university. I always had to deal with food, with the raw material. I washed dishes; I cleaned the toilets of terrifying pubs; I worked in the cold lockers of big butchers. I was a baker and even a waiter. The kitchen was in my blood, but I did not realize it. But, I can tell you that the great poets and men of theater have influenced me more than the great chefs. I extracted the juice of their philosophy to find my style in the kitchen.

When did you decide to become a chef?

I decided to become a chef when I realized that, in life, I only knew how to cook. I had a visceral need. I cooked. I taught myself. I read. I studied. Everything led me to the kitchen…like a vortex that drags you into its dark and luminous heart.

Describe your style of cooking.

My style of cooking has changed over the years. Today I can say that I am an Indie cook. I do what I feel most right towards the raw material I have before me, whether it is meat, fish or vegetables. I want to express myself in a direct, effective way without frills. In every dish, the vegetables win over everything. It is a very basic vegetable cooking, then the rest arrives. From Pane e Panelle, Isabel who is a friend and the owner supports my choices and pushes me energetically towards the hyperbole, exaggeration.

Meat is important in the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna. Bologna is not a coastal city. How does a restaurant that features vegetables and fish survive?

The god of Bologna is the pig. In my kitchen, it is not. I cook some meat but mostly vegetables and, above all, fish. I have applied the cooking techniques of meat also to vegetables. I also add animal offal (the organ meats) to flavor vegetables and fish. The technique is the only sure thing we have in the kitchen.

What five ingredients must you have in your kitchen?

The ingredients that I cannot do without are wild herbs and medicinal herbs. Basil, mint, marjoram, thyme. All forgotten herbs, those from the fields.

Our readers love wine. What are three wines that you suggest they try?

I am for extreme and biodynamic wines, natural wines. I need strong emotions when I taste a wine, or even just to eat. Among my favorites there are certainly “Lubigo Ortrugo di Croci,” and “Côtar” (Slovenian) and the great white wines of Etna.

What do you eat when you are not cooking?

When I do not cook, I always eat street food. I love offal.

Why do you like Bologna?

What I like the welcoming people, the desire to feel good, the mysterious streets and porticoes, the hidden green spaces, the small gardens, the colors of the houses.

• What is one food visitors to Bologna must try?

If you find yourself going to Bologna, you have to taste tortellini in broth.

• What advice do you have for someone visiting Bologna?

I want to give you a personal advice, from the bottom of my heart. Bologna is a red city of passion. Walk through Bologna with your head held high. Look at the buildings, towers, churches. Look at the sky, and it will seem more beautiful framed by these buildings.

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