Gennaro Esposito radiates calmness with his deliberate movements and his rhythmical speech. We are talking to one of the great figures of the Italian gastronomic scene, the holder of three Michelin stars, two for his restaurant Torre del Saracino in Naples, and one for Mammà on the tourist island of Capri. With the opening of his restaurant It, Ibiza has the opportunity to broaden its gastronomic range with ‘ecosustainable’ cuisine based on local cooking, which is championed by Gennaro Esposito like an executive chef of It Ibiza. In Marina Batafoch, a venture by the Italian entrepreneur Alessio Matrone (the founder of Optima, known as ‘the Google of the south’), we meet chef Massimo Larosa, who directs the kitchen, but always under the tutelage of Gennaro, who regularly travels to the island.
Interview with Gennaro Esposito executive chef ofIt Ibiza
What inspired the idea to open a restaurant on Ibiza?
All the credit for this adventure goes to Alessio Matrone, Neapolitan entrepreneur and founder of Optime, ‘the Google of the south’. He always comes to Ibiza for his holidays and had the idea of opening a restaurant here because he loves meeting the people and he is passionate about cooking. He came to my restaurant, and talked to me about this place, and I came to see it; as soon as I saw it, I felt a special energy and I said, as we say in Spain, ‘Vamos’.
What kind of cooking can customers enjoy at It?
We think of things that can be adapted to the tastes of the people on Ibiza; we don’t do the same as in my restaurants in Italy: the style is similar, but we adapt to the island. In Italy my restaurant caters for a maximum of 35 diners. Here we cater for more people, and we have to cook something which is good quality, innovative, interesting, in harmony with the Mediterranean and for two hundred people.
Our cooking is very natural, very Mediterranean, with totally local produce of a very high quality
Are you familiar with the range of restaurants on Ibiza?
Not really, I know around a dozen restaurants, but we do not want to be influenced by what the other restaurants do- we want to cook in our own way, follow our own ideas. Our cooking is very natural, very Mediterranean, with totally local produce of a very high quality. We only use fresh products, nothing frozen. It is a very simple philosophy of catering, but with a real touch of originality.
Ibiza is the ideal place in which to succeed?
There is no easy place, but if you respect the rules: quality, price, originality and treating the customers well, you can always succeed. Of course you need to know your customers. Here we have an international clientele. Before coming to Ibiza, I had the experience of running my restaurant Mammà on Capri. It achieved a Michelin star in 2014, and was something like Ibiza; it is a similar location with an international clientele and a Mediterranean holiday destination, but we remain faithful to the essence of Italian cooking, Mediterranean, contemporary, fresh, and using the best ingredients, because we do not want to be just another tourist restaurant, a restaurant simply for making money: we want the customer to go home satisfied.
For a renowned cook like yourself, is Ibiza the best international showcase?
For me Ibiza is a very important ‘arena’, because these days communication lies at the heart of our work, and when I am here I can talk to many people who come to the restaurant and give their views on our Italian cooking. We have been in other Italian restaurants on the island that are more traditional, and we want to give our restaurant a more contemporary feel. We want our cooking to have elegance, and we want to be able to treat the customers to a different experience, so that they can discover the Italian cooking that is being done in Italy right now-a highly progressive cooking, at the cutting edge, but always paying careful attention to the ingredients, to the origins of our tradition.
Abroad, when people talk about Italian cooking, they imagine the more traditional aspect; is the weight of tradition a burden for the development of Italian cooking?
Traditional Italian cooking is extremely difficult, requiring great expertise; it is highly technical, and incredibly exciting. A dish can seem easy, but behind it there is so very much history, so much technical knowledge, so much expertise… The problem is that Italian cooking is so distorted and trivialised, because a cotoletta can be a stupid recipe, but it can also be a really fine dish, and spaghetti al pomodoro, done properly, can be a complex dish, elegant and full of flavour. As far as innovation is concerned, I believe that Italian cooking has certainly progressed, and will go on progressing, but that it will always maintain its authenticity. In Spain there have been so many exponents of cutting-edge cooking, so many innovators like Adrià, Roca, Berasategui; there are so many… because the weight of tradition is not as great as in Italy. I believe that the ideal Italian restaurant is a trattoria, with trattoria dishes elevated to their very highest potential. When I serve you a risotto, you say: ‘Okay, a risotto’, but to make a perfect risotto is really difficult. For me, Italian cooking is linked not so much to fashion, but strongly linked to the essence of the ingredients. When you look closely, what defines it is the ingredients: the potato, the basil, the tomatoes, the basic ingredients that give a dish consistency. In Italy there are many cutting-edge restaurants, but their starting point is always traditional cooking, and from there they shift towards a more contemporary style.
How is Ibiza perceived from outside; are people now beginning to talk about a gastronomic watershed, with renowned chefs such as the Adrià brothers, Sergi Arola or Paco Roncero?
When I said I was going to open a restaurant in Ibiza, many people had the image of Ibiza as a centre for excess and living it up, the island for nightlife, for the disco… but today news travels very fast, and people know that Ibiza is changing, that fortunately, Ibiza has great chefs and now the challenge for Ibiza is to keep the essence of enjoyment and fun, but also to offer a style of tourism suitable for families and a high-quality gastronomic experience. “There is a revolution taking place on the island.”
What will It bring to this new ‘revolutionary’ scene?
We are the last to arrive. We bring our experience, our hard work, the strong economic investment we have made. We are very happy with the climate that exists here. For us it is a privilege to be here with the restaurant, and to offer our philosophy of cooking. We want to contribute to the quality, to the innovation, because that is where our heart is; we are not interested in anything else. We don’t want to be here as just another tourist restaurant.
Will the dishes at It bear the stamp of Gennaro Esposito?
We have a great chef, Massimo Larosa, and a fantastic young team, but of course they will bear the stamp of Gennaro Esposito. However, it is very important that a chef like Massimo makes his own impression on the dishes and brings his own philosophy to it, because Massimo lives on Ibiza and has his finger on the island’s pulse, so he will contribute a great deal, and the dishes that come out of It will be the convergence of his approach and mine.