Flash-grilled: Paolo Vernetti

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled: Paolo Vernetti  head chef and co-founder of community-centred restaurant and bar Morso London

Related tags: Italian cuisine, Chef

The head chef and co-founder of community-centred restaurant and bar Morso, which has sites in St John's Wood and Kensal Rise in London, reflects on his career to date.

What was your first industry job?
I started working in Napoli when I was 17 as pizza delivery boy on a little Vespa. It was really cool, as it was my first glimpse into the restaurant world and I had pizza for dinner every night.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I would possibly be working as an IT technician. Computers and videogames were one of my first passion since I was very young and I always been quite good with it. I quickly lost interests in them though once I started getting more into food and cooking.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Too many, but if I must choose then I would say Heston Blumenthal and Massimo Bottura. The ideas and dishes they come up with are just incredible. Also Massimo’s approach in the kitchen is phenomenal he seems to always be happy and having fun, his positivity is contagious.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Messy chefs! There can’t be no good quality without cleaning and organisation and a messy chef is the worst that can happen to a kitchen brigade. Dealing with food requires precision and organisation as well as high hygiene standards both personally and of the work space. It is simply impossible to produce amazing food in a chaotic environment.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
“Can I have spaghetti alle vongole (clams) with no clams please?”

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence...
Uncomplicated food that packs a big punch.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
We have always been doing incredibly well with reviews, and I feel very lucky to have had such great customers that supported us. However we did have as expected some hiccups here and there and a few unreasonable people that left us bad comments. I remember one in particular of a customers that gave us a one star review because he left the restaurant without even dining with us. He had no booking and he couldn’t sit where he wanted to (on a table where other customers where already sat enjoying their meal – meaning we had to move them around!?) even though we had offered him alternative sitting arrangements.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
I can get by with almost any rubbish piece of equipment but not without a good chef’s knife! It is such an important part of being a chef, it makes life so much easier.  

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Oysters, for some reasons I just can’t get enough of them.

À la carte or tasting menu?
Always tasting menu! It is such a great way to eat and taste a multitude of small different dishes the way the chef intended it

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Barak Obama, Dave Chappelle, Russel Howard, Bruce Lee, Freddie Mercury, Batman, Rihanna, Olivia Colman, The Queen, and Jesus, for the wisdom and the wine.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
It was a tasting menu at Le Colonne Marziale in Caserta near Napoli. The chef Rosanna Marziale is a world ambassador of the buffalo mozzarella campana and she makes amazing dishes inspired by local ingredients showcasing the famous cheese. The 'inside-out pizza with the mozzarella instead of the actual pizza dough, was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten.

What’s your earliest food memory?
Making fresh potato gnocchi with my mother on a Sunday morning after church.

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
I like them both, but I really enjoy watching MasterChef. It’s fantastic to see the progression of some amateur cooks, and how by the end of the show they have become actual chefs.

Favourite fast food joint?
I can’t live without McDonald’s.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
To look for and find a mentor, someone who is in the position they would want to be in one day and to ask them for guidance. Often in this industry you find loads of ‘cowboys’ and the most common way of learning is by doing something wrong until someone more experienced corrects you, but sometimes there’s no one that knows better around you that can offer that piece of advice, meaning that lots of chefs keep doing things wrong for a while before being corrected. With the right guidance this can be rectified quickly, and training and progression can be exponentially sped up.

Related topics: People, Profiles, Chef

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