The prestigious Michelin Guide has awarded this Italian chef Young Chef of The Year award in Abu Dhabi last year—Chef Luigi Stinga, chef de cuisine at Talea by Antonio Guida at Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi. Chef Stinga’s isn’t new to the rigours of running a Michelin star restaurant. Since early days of his career, he has been working with Michelin star restaurants in Italy—Restaurant Quattro Passi, II Pelicano and Eta; and three-Michelin starred Restaurant Piazza Duomo. Chef Stinga then worked with Chef Antonio Guida as sous chef at Mandarin Oriental Milan before his first posting to Southeast Asia.
Under the guidance of chef Guida, chef Stinga not only opened Talea’s first international outpost but also got its first Michelin star in mere eight months of its opening in Abu Dhabi. The Italian chef has built a reputation for masterfully making home-style Italian dishes worthy of a gourmet and fine dining establishment. At the same time, he does not want to take away from the essence of the familial approach to food.
We witnessed Chef Stinga’s food philosophy that celebrates family-style or ‘cucina di famiglia’, at work. Chef Luigi was in Mumbai for a two-day promotion at Vetro, The Oberoi Mumbai, to showcase the best of rustic Italian dishes but with a contemporary twist. From the rustic montanara, which is a deep-fried pizza dough, served with an aromatic tomato sauce to the sharing portion of Milanese chicken cutlet with rocket salad and cherry tomato. The highlight for us was the tableside assembly of the famous Italian dessert, tiramisu. Devoid of the gourmet frills, the tiramisu’s simplicity shined bright. Simple ladyfinger biscuit soaked with coffee, served with a delicious dollop of light and airy sweetened mascarpone, and crushed dark chocolate.
On his maiden voyage to India’s financial capital, chef Stinga was stunned at the humidity since the monsoon were still a week away but that did nothing to dampen his excitement, he told us. Here are excerpts of our conversation with him:
1. What was the idea behind your ‘cucina di famiglia’ menu for Mumbai?
The menu is obviously much smaller than at the restaurant in Abu Dhabi. But I wanted to have all the prominent flavours from my menu. I wanted you to be able to try the bit of everything, a few starters, main courses and desserts. The idea is to give the real taste of Italy.
2. How would you describe the real taste of Italy?
The kind of food we do is traditional but using clean pure ingredient and amping it up with technique. And even thought the dishes are beautifully plated and modern, the taste will take you back to a home kitchen in Italy.
3. Why is the tiramisu at Talea by Antonio Abu Dhabi so famous?
(Laughs) It started out as a joke to do a tableside tiramisu assembly. Then we added it to the restaurant’s experience, when I would go out to the dining room to greet the diners and to check if everything is running fine. We think this tiramisu is doing well, so we’ve kept it.
4. Can you take us through the journey of Talea by Antonio winning its Michelin star?
We won the Michelin Star in November 2022. All of us at the restaurant are young guys and we all really work hard towards the same goal. While I do give a direction, the whole team has something that drives them to be the best. I think this is a good way to achieve something. Every day we try and push ourselves to improve ourselves even if it is a small thing. We have new ideas every day, some are good and others aren’t but we learn from it. Every small step helps make a change for the better.
5. How are you preparing for your second and third Michelin star?
The time I heard we got the first Michelin star, I cried like a baby, because it is such an achievement and a dream come true, for any chef. I’ve worked all my life in restaurants, and this was my first star, so it was truly special. But at the same time, every day when I open my restaurant, I don’t think about stars and awards. My focus is to ensure that the guests who come here have a good experience and want to come back.
6. In your experience of working in different Michelin-star restaurants, what were the takeaways that have really helped you as a professional?
Every chef has a different idea, different kitchen, different philosophy. I think it is important that at every new kitchen, you learn what is the best there is to learn. You also need to know what works for you and the kitchen you want to run because copying does not work. And when you have the chance to work with different people, you take a bit from everyone and evolve your own style.
7. How would you describe your style of cooking?
Here in Abu Dhabi, when we started the idea was to start with a gourmet restaurant, but we finally sat down for brainstorming we realised that we were missing an Italian restaurant that offered traditional flavours. So that’s what we did, traditional dishes but with finesse that makes all the difference for the guest and his/her experience.
8. You grew up in Nerano, Italy. Is there something from your childhood that you've brought to your dishes?
I tend to use a lemon in everything. (Laughs) It is my go-to ingredient, whether it is to add flavour or to balance a dish.
9. What is next for you as a chef and a professional?
I want to improve more, with time. I think it's important to study and stay relevant because there is a lot of new techniques. To be able to grow, improve and evolve as a chef it is important that one keeps on studying and learning.