Chef, Interrupted

Chef's toqueIn 2008, Fulvio Pierangelini appeared to be approaching the summit of the culinary world. His restaurant, Gambero Rosso, had been ranked at #12 on the list of the world’s 50 best compiled by Britain’s Restaurant Magazine. He held two Michelin stars, and seemed destined to receive a third.

   Pierangelini’s restaurant was located in a small fishing village in Tuscany, in a place he cheerfully described as the middle of nowhere. It had only 24 seats. Even more amazing was his culinary philosophy, which emphasized sourcing the best possible ingredients and executing them as simply as possible. Nothing about his cuisine was avant-garde, molecular, hip, or trendy.

   In November of the year, Pierangelini abruptly closed his restaurant and disappeared. No one knows where he went or what he did, but he finally resurfaced in a very unlikely role: Creative Director of Food for Rocco Forte Hotels. Rocco Forte is a chain of ten luxury hotels including The Balmoral (Edinburgh), Brown’s Hotel (London) and The Savoy (Florence).

   On the surface, most people would probably consider this to be a prestigious position, given that Rocco Forte is a smaller and more upscale version of the Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons chain. Pierangelini himself doesn’t seem to think so. Before he left Gambero Rosso he had already begun to develop an aversion to the public. His restaurant had no website or email address, he shunned publicity of all sorts, and he admits that he was becoming bored and developing contempt for the customers who had made him famous.

   His attitude now seems to be worse. In a 2014 speech, he described his hotel job as “cooking for very rich people that made me reflect on how useless our sacrifices are.” He also characterized his kitchen work as “training and choreographing unwilling dancers to perform for a vain and incompetent audience.” If his current employers were fazed by this, they have not publicly said so. In the meantime, the chef oversees an operation where he must serve breakfast, deliver room service to people he obviously hates, and put up with the quirks and dietary restrictions of a demanding clientele.

   Presumably he is well paid for this ordeal. He has said that he still considers himself to be in exile, that someday he will once again open his own restaurant and “try not to compromise or make concessions for things which don’t come from my soul.” In this future endeavor, we can only wish him luck.


 

Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in May. For more information, go to amazon.com

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