Chef Silvio Salmoiraghi of Acquerello and Ambrogio by Acquerello: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey
Authority Magazine
7 min readAug 20, 2023

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To leave a mark, cooking should always be based not just on beauty but also taste. I always love looking at my customers secretly from behind the kitchen doors at the end of the night and see they were amused and impressed by our quest for flavor.

As a part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michelin Starred Chef Silvio Salmoiraghi.

Chef’s first milestone dates back to 1993, when he was hired at Joia, the first Vegetarian Michelin Star restaurant of Italy. From 1995 to 1999 he worked with Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi, the Founding Father of Modern Italian Cuisine, at his 3 Michelin Star Restaurant L’Albereta, where he served as Sous Chef. In 1999, he became Executive Chef at “Il Lotti” in Paris, gaining the restaurant’s first Star. From 2001 to 2002 he moved to Japan to work with the Great Master Kyomi Mikuni at his 3 Michelin Star Tokyo restaurant, Hotel de Mikuni. In 2003 he moved to Dublin at Chapter One, where he was awarded a Star after only a few months. In 2004, together with Marchesi, he opened ALMA, the International Italian Culinary Institute. In 2007, his dream came true in being awarded as one of the top 10 Chefs in the World at the Bocuse d’Or. This achievement gave him the confidence to open Acquerello in 2008, which soon became a reference for the Italian culinary scene, gaining a Michelin Star in 2014 and being ranked since then among the best in Italy. In 2022, Chef Silvio and Chef-Partner Choi Cheolhyeok joined forces with Ambrogio15 Restaurant Group to debut their latest project out of San Diego, Ambrogio by Acquerello with the ambitious goal of redefining the concept of Italian cuisine in San Diego.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a chef? Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on?

Rather than focusing on a simple type of food, I have always tried to focus my culinary research on beauty and taste.

What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

Beauty and taste have been on my mind for as far as I can remember due to my teacher, Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi. He always kept the focus not only on the taste and look of the single ingredients within a dish, but rather on the hard work of combining those ingredients to obtain what we call “absolute taste.”

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you since you became a chef? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

We were cooking with chef Marchesi at the White Truffle Festival, an autumn exhibition that features the best truffle hunters and produce that Alba and Piedmont can offer. So many colleagues and restaurant owners were pairing pasta, eggs, and butter with truffle and serving it in the crowded festival hall. Right in the middle of the lunch, the customers went utterly silent as our dish was served. We had prepared a dish consisting of a single white truffle slice on a white plate.

Chef wanted to show in a funny way that the truffle doesn’t need any other ingredients in the dish to shine. I’ll never forget the look of shock and disbelief on our colleagues’ faces. That’s something that makes me think about our job nowadays: remember that taste and beauty are of paramount importance!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

During my youth we didn’t have the tools that modern chefs have at their disposal in kitchens today. We also struggled with long work hours, especially when we were doing internships in international restaurants. We had to prove that Italy was not just pasta and pizza, but that we had in us, a creative flair that could work in such high standard venues.

Thankfully being born Italian probably endows you with the ability to fix things by thinking outside of the box.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

To create a dish that customers are crazy about, I believe the dish must not be focusing on the techniques, but must be made with heart! With too much of a focus on the technique and plating time, we risk losing the impact of taste. Balance is also very important. When we play around with bitterness or acidity, we must do it right, otherwise, a delicious taste may turn into medicinal taste.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

In my opinion the perfect meal is lunch. Our senses are more alert as we are not yet tired of the day and digestion late at night may impact on the overall experience.

It can be roasted fish, perfectly cooked meat, and a fresh orchard salad. As long as pasta comes last and not first in the order of service, it will be a perfect meal!

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

My inspiration comes primarily from colors, which in turn reflect taste. Green with all its hues goes well with black but red not so much. I always try to pair the color of ingredients before the taste, and fine tune the process along the way.

For an additional creativity boost, I turn to my maestro and to the most important teacher of all: my mother, through the taste of my childhood.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

We are working with a project I love, Ambrogio by Acquerello in San Diego. I believe we have the chance to showcase Contemporary Italian Cuisine to local customers and by doing so, be part of a new step for our national cuisine.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

Cook with passion and create a cuisine that your customers may be able to intuitively understand. We must follow our hearts and create what we believe is right for us and the people that choose to trust us by dining at our restaurant. Always be free and showcase your Identity. Be yourself!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef” and why?

  1. The most important thing for a chef is having fun while cooking. We always enjoy experimenting, creating, and overcoming challenges at work. The environment we inspire in the kitchen is based on finding joy and fun in our daily lives.
  2. To leave a mark, cooking should always be based not just on beauty but also taste. I always love looking at my customers secretly from behind the kitchen doors at the end of the night and see they were amused and impressed by our quest for flavor.
  3. A chef must always look to the Future, and that sometimes means looking back to our past. We would always study old cookbooks and combinations from early 1900 chefs in order to understand the balance of taste of old generations so that we could interpret the comfort of memories in our dishes.
  4. The taste of a dish must not be fixed, but be changed while customers eat it. I once cooked for a famous German journalist in my restaurant in Milano and at the end of the dinner, she shared with me that she loved the experience because first and foremost she had fun. A dish would start with bitterness, go through an acidic passage and finish with a delicate aftertaste. She was entertained by the unexpected use of ingredients and contrast of tastes.
  5. Great cooking is achieved through freedom. We never used to look at trends or fads while working with chef Gualtiero Marchesi. We discovered that by following our passion and hearts, innovation would materialize on the plate.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

“Carpione di Mare,” marinated prawns served with a sweet and sour sauce and deep-fried baby squid paired with a range of acid liquids such as: apple cider vinegar, Sicilian orange pulp and spring onion water. Another one is “Storione in Bianco,”a white sturgeon sashimi marinated and served with caviar and herbs.It brings to the palate a wonderful evolution in terms of taste and texture, while showcasing a range of ingredients that are hidden underneath.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

You never know what your idea can trigger. I would tell young chefs to always look up and remember that if you cook with freedom in your heart, you may come to reshape the very foundations of the society we live in, as the act of eating is something that all humans across the world have in common. I’m convinced that cooking with freedom will pass into the dish and be perceived by customers, inspiring them.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

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