Today we caught up with Danilo Cortellini, Head Chef at the Italian Embassy in London, Masterchef The Professional 2015 finalist, food and drinks consultant and book author. His first book "4 Grosvenor Square" is a celebration of the authentic Italian produce, featuring classic dishes designed to enjoy as a family meal or cocktail receptions.

Chef Danilo Cortellini

Tell us about you, what were you like growing up, and what would your family and friends have described you?
I have a twin brother and an older brother, it is fair to say we really were ‘lively’ kids! Nothing to mischievous though.
My parents taught us a sense of responsibility and respect towards each other. We have a very close relationship in our family, no matter the distances.

What your first memories of cooking?
I clearly remember watching my grandmother making fresh tagliatelle and crespelle for “Timballo” (italian crèpes) at her home in a little village in Abruzzo, where we use to spend our Summer holidays.
I loved the ritual of sharing the amazing pasta dishes at lunch time with my family.
I also remember my first hands-on experience at baking cakes with my mum. When I was behaving well, she would always let me taste the sugary cake batter. I loved it!

Chef Danilo Cortellini

How do you describe your cooking style?
Very Italian, in the terms that it is classic with a clear element of nostalgia, comfort and tradition which is often refined and lightened up.
Every region in Italy offers plenty of outstanding, traditional, recipes and products that await to be brightened up and brought to the modern world to create a new appeal.
Sometimes there are recipes with a specific component that are amazing but perhaps the technics are too dated and heavy and it could result in off-balanced dishes.
Embracing and respecting your traditions and heritage allows you to look at it with a critical eye.

What took you to london and when did you figure out to set your roots here?
It was just an adventures at first, to get fluent in English and expand my knowledge. It’s been 10 years since!
I am in love with this city but did I set my roots or maybe am I still figuring that out??

Danilo Cortellini

What fuels your creativity as a chef?
Anything can: colleagues, social media, magazines, dining at restaurants.
Even though my creative method is often inspired by cravings.
Something that I really want to eat.
That can even be a dish that I’ve randomly come across and that has inspired me so much to tweak it and make my own version of it.

What are you working on at the moment?
We are as busy as always, our private and corporate catering (Tiramisoo Events) is keeping us really busy as well as being head chef at the Italian Embassy in London.
I am also trying to spend as much time as possible with my family and my 7 months old baby girl.
There are still plans to launch my own restaurant.
The second part of 2020 will be the right time, for my team and I, to start testing a few new ideas!

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Be respectful and commited, and it will all pay off on the long term.
Be true to yourself and remember that even when you feel like you’re failing, it is all part of the journey to make your accomplishment even sweeter!
Be humble and give yourself time to learn hone your skills from people with more experience, never be shy to ask twice if unsure.
More than anything be hungry, get out there and prove to yourself that you can do it.

What are you most excited about right now in the food scene?
I think that the shift from fine dining to a more casual approach has finally come to a good balance.
I like it this way and I truly believe that the Italian cuisine is the perfect fit for the current food trends.
Focus on produce rather than on the technics.

Where would you take your out of town guests for a memorable dinner?
Very hard to say. I guess it depends where they are from.
If they are looking for true, Londoner’s style cuisine, I would take them to Adam Handling‘s; any of his restaurant will impress.
If they are interested into Italian cuisine, I would probably say Radici, Francesco Mazzei’s casual dining restaurant.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A pasta machine!

Danilo Cortellini

What’s your go-to ingredient?
I have always been a big fan of eggs; you can do so much with them!

Which seasonings do you think are underrated and how would you use them in your day-to-day cooking?
I think that the use of fresh herbs should be increased. They could give a big punch of flavours allowing for less seasoning.

Where did you take the inspiration for your cookbook “4 Grosvenor Square”?
It was a mix of family recipes and memories, my career and my background plus the experiences (and banquets) lived in all the years at 4 Grosvenor Square (aka the Italian Embassy in London).

Danilo Cortellini Italian Embassy London

Describe your favourite culinary journey – from starter to dessert..
A fresh fish carpaccio, lightly marinated, perhaps Sicilian red prawns
A comforting pasta dish, tomato based.
A chargrilled lamb chop, with a bit of lemon zest and rosmary.
A dessert rich and chocolaty, with hazelnuts from Piedmont.
I told you I enjoy comfort food!

Your favourite five minute recipe…
It has to be spaghetti “aglio e olio” (with garlic and chilli).
So underrated.
It is easy to think it is a dish that anyone can make, which is true, but very few people know how to make it perfectly.
With a very few simple ingredients there is no space to hide!

Fill in the blank: if I’d weren’t a chef, I’d be….
Difficult to say, probably a farmer.

Thanks for chatting with me today Danilo.
One last question: what does the future hold for you as a chef?
I’ll let you know when I found out. It will surely not be boring!