Chef, female style.
It’s a sunny day; the hot coffee is excellent. We are sitting next to the window inside the bar where we agreed to meet for our interview. The smile of Anna Maria Visconte,...
It’s a sunny day; the hot coffee is excellent. We are sitting next to the window inside the bar where we agreed to meet for our interview. The smile of Anna Maria Visconte, Executive Chef at Vivo restaurant in Florence, is like a filtering sun lighting us up as we speak.
Anna Maria says to me, “Do you know the first question they asked me when I was 22 and just starting my own business? Are you able to cook?
I had submitted my CV to the Autogrill Company. I passed a practical test and they hired me at Autogrill S. Nicola di Caserta, my hometown. It was an exceptional gym: work fast for customers constantly coming and going, since travelling on the motorway. It all started from there.
Then came Brek of Pam Group. It required a great effort from me, but it was also a great practical school, there were rules to follow and no wrongdoing was allowed. I made a mistake once and got a telling off! But it was essential to learn how to work well”.
Anna Maria tells me about the rules in a restaurant kitchen, which include respect for raw material, recipes, methods, and timing, the exact time when every dish needs to come out. In short, the working methods: “At 12:00, when we open, one needs to be ready for the mise en place. Everything must be ready”.
She trained at the influential “Dolce e Salato”, a cooking and pastry school in Maddaloni (Caserta), and had as her tutor Chef Giuseppe Daddio, who used to say, “Cooking is art, not improvisation”. Then, she perfected herself with Davide Bisetto, currently Chef at the Gold of the Belmont Hotel Cipriani in Venice, and with Chicco Cerea, a three Michelin star chef, and inside his famous restaurant “Da Vittorio”, in Brusaporto, near Bergamo. She continued her training with Antonio Guida, also a Michelin-starred chef, now Executive Chef of the new Mandarin Oriental in Milan, right inside the celebrated hotel.
However, there are encounters meant for life, encounters that have a reason to be, such as the one with Maurizio Manno, at the helm of the Fratelli Manno Company, in Porto Santo Stefano – Monte Argentario (Gr), which owns an important fleet of fishing vessels, and are fish and shellfish importers and wholesalers.
Maurizio Manno wanted to open a restaurant in Capalbio, and asked Anna Maria “When will you come to work with us at Vivo?” This is how the story of Vivo begun, and since then Vivo has expanded with new restaurants – she inaugurated as Executive Chef – in Florence and Milan.
“I said no at first! I could not sleep! It was a challenge with myself. At that time, I worked at the Hotel Il Pellicano, in Porto Ercole, in a two-star Michelin restaurant. However, my brother-in-law pushed me and encouraged me to accept. I went to Il Pellicano, took all my things and started working at Vivo, in Capalbio. We opened on 25 June, 2013. Do you know what? I could put my Mediterranean soul into my work through their seafood products and combine their recipes with mine. All was so simple! The Mannos are a big family, they are always present, welcoming, and they have been a great school. My mom, who is a great cook and a great teacher, came to the restaurant and taught me secrets about fish. Maurizio told me that he hoped I would always stay with them, and since I cannot stay in one place – I always love having new opportunities – when he offered me to supervise the Vivo restaurant in Florence, I immediately moved there, and so I did for the restaurant in Milan, at CityLife, in 2017”.
At Vivo restaurants, there is a short food supply chain, thanks to their own boats and freshly caught fish. “If I order the prawns, the very same night they come in. There are no other passages, so the costs are reduced”.
In a short time, Anna Maria put together a magnificent staff of young people in Florence, Benedetto, Spartaco; they are all very skilful, such as the ones in Milan.
I ask her, “Do women and men cook differently?” She replies, “The feminine touch is elegant in taste, simpler in serving; women have a clinical eye”. I ask, “Do you think the delicacy of a feminine dish is different for the palate compared to a man’s dish?” She replies, “Men need stronger dishes. The male palate is different: strong, spicy, and acid. Women have a more delicate palate”.
Cooking is love, she says. “When you prepare a dish you provide an emotion, otherwise you just eat. I look at a dish, I observe it with my eyes, I sense it with my nose, and afterwards, I eat it!”
“And (which are) the qualities of a chef?” I ask her. “Calmness and humility; you learn the technique along the way. But if you don’t have any humility, you won’t get anywhere, even if you are a champion”.
I go on, “The smell and taste?” She replies, “The sense of smell arrives first, then the taste. If you smell, your brain immediately communicates if you quite like something or not! The sense of smell already has the taste in memory, while the taste is inadequate, it is firm to itself…you need to go on and taste. If you smell…you recall, even past events. The sense of smell is very important. Perfumes make emotions live, experienced emotions. Human beings need to be moved”.
In fact, she is right. The oldest part of the brain – in its ontogenesis – is the rhinencephalon, namely the olfactory brain.
I ask, “Doesn’t the eye want its part?” She replies, “The dishes must be well-finished; they must be executed in a gentle and delicate way, always feminine. Male chefs mix colours; it is all a game for them. However, simplicity is enough; it is enough to make keep in one’s mind a dish. In my dishes, I put decorations made of fried basil leaves or dried capers, or a caramelized lemon. Male chefs want assenting applause; female chefs don’t! A customer today looks for a “beautiful” dish, but dishes should primarily taste “good”. Otherwise, we could eat just photos!”Photo made by carmeli / bedarumica.org