By Mudassir Raja
Italian chef Tano Simonato is in Qatar as a part of the ongoing Italian Cultural Week. The 62-year-old chef has been invited at Sheraton Grand Doha Resort where he has been preparing traditional Italian cuisines using his modern and novel techniques.
Tano is well-known for his expertise in using extra virgin olive oil for his recipes. He carries the desire to know, to experiment, and to test the evolutionary forms of modern cuisine. He is however best known in Italy for his experiments with extra virgin olive oil. He owns a restaurant called Tano Passami L’olio in Italy and today there are over 50 oil references in his restaurant.
The restaurant was recognised in 2016 the best restaurant in the world for the use of extra virgin olive oil.
Community got a chance to sit with the chef and interview him.
Would you tell us something about yourself?
I was born to a rich family in Milano. My grandfather was in the business of preparing stoves with different metals of high quality. Both my grandmother and grandfather also used to run a restaurant. My mother, after getting married to my father, started helping her father-in-law at the restaurant. My father married another woman and my mother stopped using his name as her second name. He died when I was only fifteen.
How did you develop an interest in cooking?
It is an interesting story. My mother along with my elder sister used to go to the restaurant. I had to stay at home to take care of my younger three siblings. It was a very tough ask, especially for the first six months. It was at that time I started tending to the kitchen. I would make some soup, salad, or steaks for my siblings. I also bought some books to understand the kitchen and cooking. I kept taking care of my younger siblings for about two years.
When I was 17 years old, I asked my mother that I also wanted to go to the restaurant. I told her that I could not do this anymore. I want to do a job. She told me that I could not cook. The reason was that she used to cook traditional food. I had no liking for traditional cuisines. She did not like my novel ideas. It was really hard some 45 years ago to break away from traditions in our country. It was difficult for others to understand novelty and creativity. My mother sent me to another restaurant run by one of her friends but I could stay there for only one week as it was difficult for me to accept traditional recipes.
At that age, it was not possible for me to set up my own restaurant that would have different and new recipes. Then I changed my profession. I started working as bartender in different restaurants. I did that for about 18 years. In this time I continued studying new recipes. It was in 1982 that I took a big bank loan and set up my own place where I would also serve some food. I did good business and paid back the loan in three years.
My search and desire for something different and new continued. I developed a kind of love for olive oil. My passion for olive oil further increased in 1991 when I visited a place where olive oil was produced through traditional methods. I learnt the art and developed special liking for extra virgin olive oil. This oil would add a new taste to my dishes. Finally it was in October, 1995 that I opened my own restaurant with the name of Tano Passami L’olio. I worked with extra virgin olive oil varieties to come up with new flavours and tastes at my restaurant.
Have you ever thought of doing something else?
I also had passion for soccer. I was a very good player of football. I wanted to play it at a very high level. I could not succeed in the sport despite my hard work for 30 years. Then I left it and turned to cooking alone.
How do you see your achievements?
I am very proud of what I have achieved so far. People like my new tastes. It feels very good. But there are always new things that you need to learn. I continue to look for new ways to improve my recipes and traditional Italian food.
What do you think is a trait you hold dear about yourself?
Besides preparing food, I think it is my character that I am proud of. I am what I am. You cannot achieve something because you want to get it. You should have willingness to do it and the character to pursue it.
What are your future plans?
First of all, I want to feel good. I want to leave my legacy for humanity. It is not just my cooking or recipes. I do some humanitarian work also. I would like others to follow my legacy.
How do you see Qatar?
This is my second time in Qatar. I have been to the Middle East for seven times now. It is very nice to be in Qatar, especially this time as we are celebrating Italian week. I find Qatar a very beautiful and peaceful country. I have met very nice people here. I would love to come to this country again.
Have you ever tried to create something different, like combining Italian and Arabic recipes?
I believe that I learn something new every day from people around me. They also learn from me and my experiences in turn. I have been making Chinese, Japanese, and Indian dishes in combination with something Italian. So far I have not tried Arabic recipes. Maybe I do not know about Arabic kitchen that well. But it can become one of my future projects. When I know more and understand Arabic recipes well, I will definitely try to create new fusions.
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