Flash-grilled: Masha Rener

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Masha Rener Lina Stores

Related tags: Chefs, Italian food, Soho, Pasta

Masha Rener was born in Umbertide – a small town in between Umbria and Tuscany - and cooked for many years in her family's restaurant there. She now cooks at specialist Soho pasta restaurant Lina Stores, which opened earlier this year.

What was your first job?
I grew up on my parents’ farm and restaurant so had helped my father and mother run La Chiusa for as long as I can remember. The jobs I had to do around the farm weren’t always pleasant, and included things like picking up small insects from potato plants or harvesting tomatoes.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
I don’t have a big sweet tooth but one of my favourite things to indulge in is raw “pasta frolla”, which is the pastry base for a crostata. My recipe always includes a bit of salt, lemon zest and vanilla bean seeds. Once I start snacking on it, I simply can’t stop

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
When a meal involves all five senses then it’s a truly wonderful experience for me. Near Umbertide, there is an old lady who cooks one of the most delicious “salmi”, game stews, I have ever had. She cooks in a small village near Città di Castello, called Fraccano, and makes this typical Umbrian dish with partridge, which is brought to her straight from hunters in the area. The view from the place, the flavours of Umbria all coming together and the richness of the dish simply brings you to another level.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
Nadia Santini, who is the owner of Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio. She has become one of the best female chefs in the world, and I’m incredibly inspired by her recipes and professional attitude towards cooking.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do? 
I would definitely be a florist. My passion and love for plants and flowers probably comes from my love for fresh produce, and over the years I’ve learned which wild plants can be used in the kitchen too.

What is your biggest regret?
In my 20s I was focused on building a family and my career, which meant I couldn’t explore the world as much as I’d have liked to. I wouldn’t change it for the world but I am trying to make up for it now by travelling as much as I can when it’s possible and meeting people from all walks of life. 

Pet hate in the kitchen?
I really don’t like it when dishes stand around for too long. I’d like them to be cleaned straight away – even at home. 

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
It was more a heartfelt compliment, which I’ll always remember: the gentleman kept complimenting the whole experience throughout the evening and at the end of the night he said that “working to make others feel good is a gift”, which is something that has kept me going ever since. I think I might have blushed a little too. 

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Cappelletti in brodo, for sure. It’s one of Italy’s most famous dishes for Christmas and its balance is something I’d have loved to create.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Quality of ingredients, colourful, healthy.

Most overrated food?
I’m not a big fan of trendy foods that have a temporary place in the spotlight. At the moment the notion of “super food” is very fashionable but as a chef who has been growing her own ingredients and produce for decades, I’d like to think that every healthy, natural ingredient is a “super food” in itself and that the combination of each of these is what makes the experience a truly nutritious one.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
I’d rather not ban anything and thereby stay friends with everyone!

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
I once had a couple in my restaurant in Italy that argued all the way through their meal. From the minute they entered the restaurant they were very unhappy. Like always, we treated our guests with the usual care and attention but they were already in such a bad place, nothing would have made it better. Afterwards I was so angry to find a negative review claiming that I did not have passion for my cooking. I was so utterly disappointed that they could even suggest this when they never once paid attention to their plates. That something entirely inaccurate could be published was shocking to me.  

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Valentino Rossi. I adore him as a person and as a professional.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
I’d say they should really ask themselves what exactly it is that they are passionate about. When you do something you love the results will eventually be good. I don’t mind what my kids will do in the future but I always tell them to go after their heart as work will always be a big part of your life so you’ve got to really enjoy it and try to learn everything you can about it.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A small knife.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
Fried courgette flowers filled with ricotta and anchovies is one of my favourites. 

What’s your earliest food memory? 
My mum is from Croatia and she often used to cook Croatian food for us. There’s this super simple soup made from salty milk with semolina and eggs called Boja Kasha that she made for me and my sister on the wood stove one cold winter evening, which I’ll never forget.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m very determined and stubborn so I always appreciate people by my side who keep me calm and give advice to take a step back and evaluate before going full steam ahead for something. Think before you act. 

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
10 years ago I got sick with a pretty bad blood disease and until this day I find it difficult to talk about this experience of my life.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
There’s nothing like the peace and freedom you get when you’re on a sailing boat. I absolutely love it and it’s a feeling that can’t be described.

Tipple of choice?
Old Fashioned.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
I think I’d be too scared to choose or eat if I knew it was going to be my last meal. 

Related topics: People, Restaurant, Profiles, Chef

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