Flash-grilled: Carmelo Carnevale

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Carmelo Carnevale head chef Onima restaurant Mayfair

Related tags: Chefs, Italian cuisine, Mayfair

Born in Sicily, Carmelo Carnevale is head chef at top end Mayfair Italian Onima. His CV also include Semplice and Novikov Italian.

What was your first job?
I started working at my uncle’s pizzeria in my hometown.  I was just 13 years old.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
There are a few, but Sicilian cannoli made with fresh ricotta, candied fruit and crushed pistachio would be at the top of the list.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
The tasting menu at Osteria Francesca in Italy. Especially the dessert "Oops I dropped the custard tart".

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
My former boss Arkady Novikov. His entrepreneurial skills have made him a very successful restaurateur.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I can’t see myself anywhere but in the kitchen. 

What is your biggest regret?
I don’t have any regrets because everything I do, I do it with passion and dedication. I always have a positive attitude and believe that every situation can enrich me both personally and professionally.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
People wearing dirty uniforms.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
"The fish tasted too much of fish."

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Gualtiero Marchesi's Gold leaf saffron risotto.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Emotional colour of taste. Sorry that's four.

Most overrated food?
There is no food that can be described as overrated if there is anyone willing to pay for it.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Overcooked pasta, and adding cream to carbonara.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
My first ever review in London as a head chef by Fay Maschler in 2005 (at Amici restaurant). I want to thank her because I learned a lot from her criticism.

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Barack Obama, because he is an inspirational and down to earth guy. I also know that he advocates for sufferers of coliac disease and I have many gluten-free dishes that I would like to cook for him. 

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Work with passion and determination and travel the world to discover new food cultures.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
My knives.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
I love to cook at home for friends and family. Dishes that can be shared, and comfort food like lasagne, roast beef. But I also love it when my wife cooks.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
Helping my grandmother making gnocchi.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Taste everything you cook before you serve it to your customers.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
The 1990 earthquake in my hometown of Syracuse, Sicily. 

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
To the river for a walk.

Tipple of choice?

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Sardinian-style roasted suckling pig and Alain Ducasse's baba au rhum.

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