After just over a year since our last interview with Danilo Cortellini, we have touched base with the Italian Embassy's head chef on how the past year has influenced his creativity and outlook towards the hospitality sector.

Danilo Cortellini Italian Embassy London

Ciao Danilo,thanks for taking part again to our Q&A by The Pass.
What have you been busy with during the past year?

I guess like most of us I turned to online/social media jobs and I am pleased to say it is going well. I’ve kept working in the kitchen at the Italian Embassy but the pace is much different than pre-pandemic times, therefore with the help of the small team I have left we were able to launch a series of both corporate and open-to-public live stream cookery classes. On the social media side of things I simply geared up the work I was already doing with a few Italian premium brands in developing recipes and increasing the brands value and awareness with the british public.

How has the lockdown impacted your creativity as a chef and your outlook for the future?
It was not all bad for me. I was pushed by lockdown(s) to be more flexible, to wear many shirts, not only the white of the chef. I learned how to be more proactive on social media and how to produce my own videos and photography. In a moment when all came to a stop, it was natural to look at other ways to still do what I love the most. Communicating through my recipes.

What do you think will be 2021’s biggest food trend?  
This is very difficult to tell but as usual I bet on pasta! Pasta in every shape will always be on trend.
Also I guess with the new found pleasure for home cooking, many British will be experimenting with fresh handmade pasta, which is great.
I believe pasta machines have had an increase in sales. The more people know about our Italian heritage and culture the more they appreciate the real deal, so that no more fakery or poor quality products are introduced into the market.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs in these tough times?
Hang in there, opportunities are still there to be found. Follow your favourite chefs/heros on their socials and get in touch with them.
Things will get back to somewhat normal and we all need staff into our kitchens. I found that if you ask nicely, most chefs will be more than happy to tutor the younger generation. Also take this time off to expand your knowledge, not only technical skills, in the kitchen, but learn something new outside of the kitchen too. It could be anything.
Online learning is a great tool, and although it cannot replace face to face teaching, it will still add to your personal baggage. You have to be ready at your best professional shape for when the right opportunity comes.

With schools reopening next week, what would be your advice to parents for healthy snacks and meals?
With my daughter being only 20 months I am still at the stage where I got to find ways to get her to eat veggies. She loves pasta (of course) therefore if we hide vegetables in the pasta sauce sometimes we could trick her. Our go to option for a quick snack that could also be a healthy take-to-school-lunch idea is frittata. So again, we took inspiration from the vast variety of homely Italian classics for this. Consider it a set scramble egg that is usually fluffy and you can stuff anything you want in it, from cheese, to veggies and meat. Sometimes my wife makes them colourful with blended carrots or spinach and uses cookie cutters to give them fun shapes, all in the bid to stimulate our daughter to eat well 🙂

Danilo Cortellini

Your ideal dinner…
I am a big lover of homely comfort food, but it has to be done properly! Either Italian or Asian, I don’t mind. At the moment I am missing my family in Abruzzo so much that my ideal menu would be done by mum:

  • Starter of Olive all’Ascolana (meat stuffed olives, breaded nd fried)
  • Spaghetti alla chitarra alla Teramana (square shaped with a meaty tomato sauce and mini meatballs)
  • Arrosticini (lamb skewers cooked on charcoal)
  • Pizza dolce (translate as sweet pizza but it is def not, it is a sponge cake with custard, chocolate, coffee and alchelmres, a bright red liqueur)

And your ideal diner ….
Someone a bit like me, interested in the essence of things and having a good experience. When I go out for dinner (used to, should I say) I turn my chef mind off and let the evening flow.
There is no need to add to the pressure of restaurant staff by being too needy or demanding, I rather let them do their job and if I don’t like the experience, I simply won’t return.

Can you tell us one funny moment related to your career as a chef ?
When I first arrived in London in January 2010 I did not speak a great deal of english but I was still able to earn the position of sous chef in the restaurant where I was working in just over a month anyway.
The executive had me in charge of running the kitchen and sometimes also talking to curious customers in our dining room.
So the chef made me believe that we were using Italian eggs for our pasta as the chickens back there were getting plenty of sunshine, therefore the yolk was bright and very orange, hence a bright pasta rather than pale sad British eggs from poor chickens standing under the rain.
I must admit I was naive enough to believe that for a while. The best part of this story is that I went and told it to everyone asking about our pasta, including British customers at the time.
Would you believe that no one questioned it? Everyone took it for real!

Once travelling abroad will be allowed again are there any places in the world , that you haven’t been yet, that you would like to visit to sample the food?
I am very intrigued by South America in general and the far east. I am amazed by the Nikkei cuisine, the cuisine of the Japanese immigrants in South America.

In our first interview, we were interested in finding out more about your next steps as a chef. Has this past year given you some food for thoughts on what’s around the corner for your career?
The future is still unsure but I would rather say to be discovered.
I am sure of a fact that I will keep expanding my online services in order to be as flexible as possible. I am planning to move to Italy for a couple of months this summer (pandemic permitting) so I also wish to bring my beloved Abruzzo more in the spotlight to my British friends.

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