Flash-grilled: Stefano Motta

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with Kitchen at Holmes hotel restaurant head chef Stefano Motta

Related tags: London, Restaurant, Hotel, Chef

Italian chef Stefano Motta currently oversees the stoves at the Kitchen at Holmes hotel restaurant in London's Marylebone.

What was your first job?
My first job? Well, my actual first job was when I was 14. Back then you would always have a job during the summer and I worked at a fine dining restaurant back in my home town of Biella, a small town in Northern Italy. My first job as a chef was at the Relais Chateux in the ski resort of Cervinia, in the Aosta valley; a beautiful place, I still treasure all the memories I have from that time.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
I’m Italian so will have to go for an obvious choice – pizza. Nothing beats a quattro formaggi pizza: mozzarella, parmigiano, gorgonzola and goat cheese.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
When I was working in New York back in 2009 I dined at Eleven Maddison Park several times. Their tasting menu, which was prepared by Daniel Humm, was spectacular. The flavours were perfect and you would finish your dinner feeling like a different person.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
There are several chefs and restaurateurs I admire, but definitely Fabio Trabocchi. I had the pleasure to work under him when I was just 19; it was a particularly turbulent time for me as I had just moved to London, and he was one the most hardworking and determined person I had ever met.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do? 
When I was younger I always wanted to be a basketball player. I was pretty good at it and my height (6’4’’) also helped out a bit. If I wasn’t that, I would probably be in the military; the structure and rules that you have in the military are very similar to the rules you have in a kitchen, and that is something that drove me to become a chef.

What is your biggest regret?
I don’t have any regrets. Although maybe it could be that I never got to be a basketball player. I had an injury when I was younger and couldn’t play anymore. As they say, when a door closes a window opens, and that’s how I found my way to the kitchen, so no regrets.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
When a young chef cuts corners just because they are a little bit lazy. I need to see a full commitment in my chefs; the same level of commitment that I had from day one. A kitchen is a family and if we are not all pulling our weight we won’t be able to do our best.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
I never had any strange requests. I used to work with really high-profile guests when I was in New York, and I get a lot of people asking me this now. But most of the time those guests just wanted something really nice or really comforting.

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
I would probably have like to come up with the technique to cure meats for cold cuts; like for prosciutto, for example. I find it amazing how a technique was thought of thousands of years ago and is still as popular as ever.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Simple, direct, and flavourful.

Most overrated food?
I don’t think there is any food that is overrated. Italians (myself included) believe that if people put passion and love in their cooking, food will be amazing.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Rude customers, though I have to say these are harder to find nowadays. I’m not sure if it’s all the cooking programmes on TV, but customers have started to be more considered for all the work a chef does.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
I’ve never had a really terrible review, thankfully!

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
This might seem a bit of a cliché, however, I would love to cook a big feast for my whole family on a Sunday. Just fly them all to London and cook a feast at Kitchen at Holmes just for them. I can’t wait to cook for my son too, he is only 2 years old, so he still doesn’t eat that much, but in a few years’ time I want to introduce him to all the different flavours my mother and grandmother shared with me.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Make sure you see the end goal of what you want to achieve from working in a kitchen and that you are aware of the toll that this industry will take from your life. Working in a restaurant, especially within hotels, the kitchen never stops and that means long shifts, working nights and that you will spend less time with your family. However, you will grow faster than in most industries.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
Knives; they can be with you for a lifetime if properly looked after.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
At home we usually do take-away or we eat out. If I really have to cook, I always go for a simple pasta dish, just oil and parmegiano; very simple.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
My mum’s cooking. As a kid growing up in Italy, my mum was always cooking something, sometimes two to three different dishes a day; it was one of the best parts of growing up in Italy. I am still a big fan of her homemade orecchiette, and lasagne.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
When you are starting you always receive plenty of advice from senior chefs. The chef community is very close and in a kitchen environment we support ourselves a lot as we end up spending a lot of time together. At one point I was considering becoming a pastry chef, but a chef I respected advised me not to specialise so much. He was absolutely right because as soon as I started full time in the kitchen I didn’t look back.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
Thankfully never had that misfortune.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
I usually hang out with some of my other chef friends from restaurants in London, and we go out for dinner until the late hours.

Tipple of choice?
I love to drink a beer and red wine. Being from Piedmonte I really appreciate a glass of good red wine, my favourites are Barolo and Barbaresco. I am also very fond of Californian wines.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Probably a carbonara in Rome; the setting of having a wonderful lunch in the most beautiful city in the world.

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