From Tuscany to Abu Dhabi, Italian speciality chef Antonino Chirieleison pays tribute to his roots the best way he knows how.
Most of us have fond memories of family occasions where food was just as important as the conversation.
“For me, that would be our Sunday feasts,” smiles chef Antonino Chirieleison, Italian speciality chef at Prego’s in Beach Rotana.
“It was a weekly ritual for the family and loved ones to gather for a loving yet loud afternoon.
“My mum would start off by making the dough for the pasta and cutting it with great precision to make them identical in size and shape,” he recalls.
“My grandmother was famous for her traditional three-meat sauce. The meat was slow cooked in our wood-fired oven for five to six hours, with fresh tomatoes and handpicked herbs from our little backyard garden – the sauce was sensational!”
This early exposure to the joys of culinary arts instilled a love for cooking in Antonino that drove him to pursue it as a career.
“My early years were always filled with excitement and passion, and luckily this flame is still within me,” says Antonino, who cites his grandmother as his biggest influence.
“I strongly believe that cooking is not like any other job, it is something that you have to love. Over the years, I learned that there is always room for change and improvement in every dish served.
“Cooking has no limits – creativity is highly welcome in this industry and that is a challenge that I love to face the minute I wake up in the morning.”
Antonino’s impressive resume includes stints in high profile restaurants such as L’Andana in Tuscany as well as spells in London, India and the UAE, where he worked at The Address Downtown in Dubai and the Grand Hyatt in Abu Dhabi before joining Beach Rotana.
Working in the UAE has presented the seasoned chef with a unique set of challenges given the diversity of clientele and tastes here – from customers who prefer pasta that’s cooked for longer to those who want to infuse their dish with spicy pink sauce and melted cheese to accompany their traditional white Alfredo sauce.
“The UAE market is more in favour of modified dishes,” chef Antonino explains. “In London and Europe, they are more traditional, they know how a dish tastes and they like to have it the same way every time.
“Traditional dishes can be prepared in different ways: a small hint of an additional ingredient can give it a new twist without changing its authentic flavour.
“The trick with revamping an old dish is to stick to the original ingredients and let your creativity start after that.”
While innovation is a constant for Antonino, that fondness for tradition rooted in his early years will always serve as a blueprint for his work. After all, Italian cuisine is so universally loved that it’s not a difficult task.
“The Italian kitchen is a small world in itself,” he contends. “It has so much to offer among varieties of flavours. It is a place where there is something for everyone.”
WORDS Ferdinand Goodness