Chef Claudio Melis: "The dining room is in trouble, the capable staff are fleeing abroad"

A story, that of the starred chef Claudio Melis, which starts from the flavors of childhood. Colors, affections, the simple tastes learned by spying on the mother, the study. But it immediately comes into play the strength of stone, hard, full of streaks yet clear, the other side of Sardinia, the true one of Gallura that does not want useless frills. Today the chef has made the Pasigà by Claudio Melis restaurant hosted by the Boutique hotel Sulià House Curio Collection by Hilton in Porto Rotondo, an esthetic excellence, protected by an unscathed luxury. The hotel looks, with an incomparable view, at the world from above in all its twenty-one rooms, the peace of silence beyond Porto Rotondo which does not even seem within walking distance. A choice that goes perfectly with that of his starred restaurant “In Viaggio” I create in South Tyrol, Bolzano. To unite them is the granitedolomitic stone and Sardinian stone which for Melis is childhood and is present.
“Sardinia is the first land emerged in the Mediterranean, the Alps are the oldest in Europe. Granite under Sardinia, granite in the Dolomites where marine fossils are found. A rocky stability that I cannot give up, so I alternate my work between the two most beautiful regions of Italy, South Tyrol and Sardinia.

What cuisine do you plan to do?
“A cuisine capable of evolving like a story, cleanliness, sharpness and lashes of acidity and sweetness that meet with the herbaceous notes. A technical cuisine, however straightforward. My dishes are like me. I am what I am, without pretense, therefore I am at peace with myself. “

A therapeutic cuisine that aims at absence?

“I would like to be therapeutic in my offer. Since 2004 I have followed the principle of ethics in the kitchen which is not sustainability, mind you. Even if the beauty to look at and the good to eat are still a sign of sustainability. Inside my dishes there is Sardinia, tradition viewed from different angles without fear of innovation “.

His childhood with the flavors of the home garden is essential. It is no coincidence that in the garden of the Sulià hotel you have had a sort of medicinal greenhouse put up with smells and herbs which are then used in her kitchen and even in cocktails.
“Of course, the secret is to create something different by exploiting the taste memories that I then emphasize, the scents of the earth, that scent of wetness that awakens me ancient suggestions of central Sardinia”.

Who was Claudio Melis as a child and then a boy?

“A Sardinian like many others that my mother used to cook from the land and from the vegetable garden. The sea was that of the rich who arrived after the 1960s, of nightclubs. Had I been born in Puglia I would have been familiar with raw fish, sea urchins. I’m compared to the suckling pigs, the potatoes, the cabbage. The lobster came later, much later. ”

Did you keep any recipes from that period that you propose again?
“My mother’s ravioli, potatoes, mint and saffron, the only three island ingredients found in Barbagia, which are within everyone’s reach”.

And how do you propose them again?
“Dirtying them with suggestions from my many trips to distant lands, an Asian sauce, or the” umami “(better known as the fifth flavor). The predominant element is not the search for comfort food but the good for everyone”.

Its strengths?
“The clear and defined philosophy and when the bar is raised, it must be following a very specific scheme”.

Do you think that television programs on food, which are now everywhere, have helped to educate people’s tastes?

“There is still a lot to educate! Even today if a restaurant puts one course out of twelve, the customer feels cheated. The language of the chefs on TV should be changed, it doesn’t work. nobody talks”.

Talk about it then.
“Service is very important is the restaurant’s business card. Hospitality, the world of wine and we struggle to find highly qualified personnel. I speak as a chef and as a restaurateur, especially in this moment the first impact is fundamental. The message that wants to send the chef often does not reach the customer. Instead, the experience that will be consumed must be told, it must be lived before even tasting the proposals. So many capable staff flee abroad, nobody wants to work in the dining room anymore “.

Why do many flee abroad, a choice linked to wages?

“The Italian salary and contribution system does not facilitate the private restaurateur. Consequently, maintaining a double team to cover two shifts is very difficult. So even in the face of even a substantial salary, the working hours are always excessive. The whole system should be used. revised in order to reduce the working week to 5 days with 8-hour shifts for the common good, even in catering “.

Is the situation that bad?
“Very serious. Thanks to the pandemic, we are in a parable that is reaching the maximum point of failure”.

What to do then?
“Opening up to other job markets to make up for the many shortcomings of the room (starting with the maître). By other markets I mean Nepal, India, Bangladesh and all those countries less explored at the moment. And to think that our maîtrees were the most coveted in the world. The great hotel industry had taught and wrote about it, Thomas Mann in Campania, Ezra Pound on the Amalfi Coast, Caruso in Sorrento. The rest came later “.

There used to be some resistance to choosing a hotel restaurant for dinner.

“Today’s level catering is very hotel-like. We also open the Sulià to outsiders who want to try an experience and the treatment is the same. We want Sardinians to taste our food while enjoying beauty and exclusivity”.

How’s he doing with vegans?
“Nothing against vegans, but I don’t cook vegan. We cook for many, we can’t cook for everyone”.

Did you work as a cook for passion?
“No, by mistake. I enrolled in the hotel school because in my part, in Gallura, there was nothing else and I didn’t want to do it. And I tried not to go too far from my country. I got the address of the kitchen. without conviction, then I had lucky encounters and I learned technique, rigor and I understood how much creativity there could be behind the stove. At that point the travels arrived, France first of all, the world after. Now I do what I love “.

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