We met the young chef Raffaele Lenzi (b. 1984) from Naples.

With his wide ranging international experience of the highest level in award-winning restaurants and hotels, he has been chosen to try for his first time solo in the contemporary location TURBIGO in Milan.

You are a young, creative and dynamic chef. What’s your story and where did you do your training?

I attended the hospitality training institute in Naples, and got my diploma in 2002. While I was studying, I started out in various restaurants in Naples, but I immediately wanted to go abroad to widen my technical training and knowledge in the field by learning innovative styles and techniques.
London, New York and Valencia have been fundamental stops along the way in my career, and they strengthened my conviction that experience with award-winning establishments and Chefs are primary elements for my professional development.
My first opportunity came in 2008, with Bruno Barbieri (Chef at the Hotel Villa Restaurant Arquade, with 2 Michelin stars), and then I went further with Elio Sironi, Chef at Bulgari Milano, a 5-star luxury hotel establishment. In both restaurants I discovered the role of Chef de Partie. My career in refined cuisine continued with Pino Lavarra, Chef at Palazzo Sasso (Ristorante Rossellinis, 2 Michelin stars) with responsibilities as Junior sous Chef, and then at Villa Feltrinelli (1 Michelin star), with Chef Stefano Baiocco. All of these employment opportunities with great Chefs gave method and discipline to my work, which is essential in kitchen management, and fundamental technical knowledge so that I could develop “my idea of gastronomy”.
In 2011 I became Executive sous Chef at the Armani Hotel in Milan (5-star luxury hotel), where I personally was in charge of the opening event. With experience at the Armani Hotel, i improved my managerial skills and knowledge of management operations, which are what good modern management in a restaurant establishment hinge on.
The desire to keep moving while continually expanding the breadth of my knowledge once again took me abroad in 2012, with a stint at the Bo-innovation Restaurant in Hong Kong (2 Michelin stars, Top 50 in the San Pellegrino guide), and there I fell in love with many Asian-type techniques.

London, New York and Valencia have been fundamental stops along the way in my career, and they strengthened my conviction that experience with award-winning establishments and Chefs are primary elements for my professional development.

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All of these employment opportunities with great Chefs gave method and discipline to my work, which is essential in kitchen management, and fundamental technical knowledge so that I could develop “my idea of gastronomy”.

What fascinated you about this profession so much that you wanted to take it up?

Obviously, a passion for food and ingredients – first of all – which is a job that constantly feeds on new ideas if driven by constant curiosity. There is creativity and imagination, but diligence and technique also have to be learned. Then the modern chef must be a traveller; an explorer of many borders must not stop with his own ideas, but always put them on the line.
In this, travel, another great passion of mine, is a fundamental element for always finding new stimuli. That is why I immediately left for the great capitals in order to understand how big restaurants worked, and that is also why I have recently been looking towards the Orient, where they are developing big projects for star restaurants… but I still always look towards and respect the cuisine of my origins and my traditions, while always searching for ideas to renew them.

How do you manage to wed echoes of your Neapolitan origins with the flavours of Northern Italy in your dishes?

By finding the right balance and adding little touches that allow flavours to be together while respecting the basic recipes… I might add a zucchine a scapece (a very Neapolitan technique for marinating and pickling zucchini that I refine by using raspberry vinegar) to beef, or I add a quenelle with genovese napoletana sauce (a classic, traditional ragout with veal and onions) to a risotto alla milanese instead of marrow. Then the ingredients: if I use squash or lemon, I always send for them from home.

What relationship is there between your culinary creations and the new, contemporary location Turbigo?

Turbigo is a project of some of the partners who had already created Pisacco and DRY Cocktails & Pizza, and as in these two previous cases, here a sort of “short circuit” was also necessary between progressive interior and a type of cuisine that would reinterpret the great classics, and I immediately liked this. I have always seen these places during my international experiences, and maybe they already served classic Italian cuisine abroad, but in a fresh, unexpected ambience. I feel comfortable, and this atmosphere with little touches of design and contemporary art (but without emphasis or prosopopoeia) is my mirror image. I look for this same balance in my dishes, something between tradition and contemporary invention.

What ingredients do you prefer for your compositions?

Two basics that are pleasant, simple and fundamental: oil and salt. There is an infinite variety, both in terms of purity or with added aromas, and they totally ruin the DNA of a dish with a single touch.

What are the most interesting combinations?

Perhaps my passionate soul is where my passion for contrasts comes from. I love to combine fruit with savoury components, for example pineapple along with squid, or a little touch of exotic fruit, perhaps reduced into caviar and placed alongside raw shrimp. Then the combo “mountains” and “sea” is a contrast that I have always been fascinated by. Caviar next to meat, mushrooms with shellfish – if treated with the right technique – preserve their distinctive, characteristic aromas, but harmonize well into an interesting third union.

What is your idea of cuisine? Do you follow a line of thought, or are you inspired by your creativity?

By “tasty food” (as we say where I come from). Cuisine that first of all satisfies, without too many super-structures and without intimidating the guest. Above all, I start with the quality of the ingredients, which can be treated creatively, but which should already have an original value that I do not like to de-nature too much. In my professional career, I have met a couple of masters whom I am especially attached to, but I let myself go and follow my instinct.

Have you got plans or new ideas in the works?

My head is always working …now the TURBIGO adventure has just begun, and it is the context in which, for the first time, I’m the soloist and it’s “my face” that can be lost and my skills that are on the line. I’m highly focalized on this responsibility, and with the founders, there’s an evolutionary track that we have already imagined for next year, but I prefer to take little steps and consolidate this formula each day. But I never stop looking around and becoming inspired.