The appointment of Nino di Costanzo as executive chef of IT restaurants has been one of this year’s important new developments in the world of gastronomy. The Neapolitan, who boasts two Michelin stars at his restaurant in Ischia, represents a huge boost for a project that started out just six years ago in Ibiza and has not ceased to grow.
Six years ago, in 2015, IT Ibiza opened its doors. The name of the spectacular establishment is a play on words on “eat” and the first two letters of Italy. Its founder, a successful businessman and visionary hailing from Naples, Alessio Matrone, dreamt of bringing the flavours and aromas of Campania to the island but on a large scale and in his own special way. And it seems that he got it right, because IT now boasts restaurants in London, Milan, Porto Cervo (Sardinia) and Tulum (Mexico), as well as the latest addition to the IT family, which will open its doors soon on the Greek island of Mykonos.
IT’s recipe for success is based on modern, updated aesthetics, establishments in exclusive locations in the most cosmopolitan cities, a carefully-selected repertoire of live music, and vera cucina italiana expressed through its most traditional recipes or modern versions of them and a commitment to Italian produce.
The appointment of Nino di Costanzo, who has two Michelin stars under his belt at his restaurant Daní Maison on the small Neapolitan island of Ischia, as the new executive chef of IT restaurants is a daring move to help the company face new challenges such as the opening of a new restaurant in Greece and the pursuit of new stars to add to the one they were awarded in 2019 for IT Milan.
For his new role, Di Costanzo has spent time in Ibiza preparing the launch of the season opening at IT Ibiza, so at FacefoodMag we took the opportunity to head to Marina Botafoch and ask him a few questions about the business, his food and what to expect at IT Ibiza and much more.
You’re a successful chef, you have an acclaimed restaurant, you live on a beautiful island, and now you have decided to join the IT project. What made you undergo such a radical change and come to Ibiza?
Why Ibiza? Because IT fascinates me and because Ibiza is one of the most important destinations, so why not start such an important adventure here? My first IT experience was in Tulum, in December. Ibiza was the first restaurant in the family to open and I’m lucky that one of my sous chefs has worked here for many years, from when it opened until now, so I have always seen Ibiza as the mother of all IT restaurants.
What do you think of the island?
I’ve only been in Ibiza a short while and although I’ve seen very little, because we’ve been working a lot, I have to say that I feel right at home, because the island I come from is very similar. Italy and Spain are also so alike, it’s as if we were cousins, both cultures are so similar. And then you’ve got this amazing land and weather, so we hope to do a good job to satisfy all our customers. One thing I would like to say about Ibiza is that the people are so welcoming and from day one they’ve treated us as if we were family. It’s a really lovely thing that doesn’t happen very often in the world.
What are you like as a person?
My father was a builder, so I come from a very humble family. He wanted me to study economics, but I always knew that I wanted to be a chef. As a person I’m very critical of myself, you could say almost dissatisfied, which is why I’m always trying to improve both on a cultural and professional level in order to keep growing. I’m almost 50 years old, but I have the same desire to develop as when I was 11 years old. That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about this project, because my background is in small businesses and I like the idea of testing myself with a large kitchen but, above all, by focusing exclusively on excellent raw ingredients and simplicity in general. Ibiza is a huge challenge. We have to do things well, because there are great restaurants and great chefs all around us.
How would you describe your cooking?
My cooking is based on its ingredients: we search for the very best produce. We import a lot from Italy such as pasta, tomatoes, oil, ham. Although we are in the land of one of the best hams in the world, our aim is to make Italian food, which is why we try to keep the ingredients authentic as the starting point. My cooking revolves around its ingredients and a lot of simplicity, nothing more, but above all lots of Italian tradition.
And speaking of tradition, we know from previous interviews that you’ve given that your mother is one of the most important people in your life, in your cooking...
My mother is my great teacher in life, because I was living with her for 48 years and in that time she made the same dishes a thousand times and, each one of those times, every dish was perfect. Therefore, it was a life lesson. Why? Because a chef isn’t someone who creates thousands of dishes, instead they are someone that makes a few but manages to give them continuity over time and always make them extraordinary. So my mother is without a doubt one of my greatest teachers in life.
Have your Michelin stars changed you?
No doubt having a star is every chef’s dream and having two is even more significant. I’ve always seen it as a great responsibility, never as a medal worn around my neck, but as something important that should be respected. However, above all, the customers who come to have a special experience should be respected. So, in my opinion, it means great responsibility towards my customers.
Italian restaurants are not few and far between… What makes IT stand out from the rest in terms of its food?
Often times the food in Italian restaurants abroad, outside of Italy, doesn’t reflect the Italian philosophy, such as cooking past al dente, searching for excellent Italian produce… By contrast, IT, unlike many Italian competitors, is focused on these things, on the ingredients, on maintaining the standards of Italian cooking. The message that we want to get across at the restaurants that make up the IT family is very simple: at our restaurants you can eat an excellent dish of pasta with tomato sauce. That’s the idea of Italian cooking. We don’t do anything abstract. We don’t make things with complicated techniques. We just try to make simple dishes that reflect authentic Italian cooking. From the aforementioned spaghetti with tomato sauce to cacio e pepe, through to anything that represents simplicity and Italian tradition.
Any new projects in the pipeline?
At the moment I’m dedicating my time exclusively to the IT project. In June we’re opening a lovely fish restaurant, very similar to IT Ibiza or IT Tulum, in Mykonos, Greece. We hope to open midway through the month, because all our staff have been trained up. After that I’m sure there will be more openings all over the world.
Aside from cooking, what other passions do you have?
One of my interests are classic cars from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I’m a big fan of classic Italian cars, from Fiats to Ferraris and Alfa Romeos. The problem is that I never have any time. I have a few, but I never have time to get them going, so they’re always stationary. And then I’m also a big fan of vintage things in general, such as Berkel slicers. I love things that are old but designed well and with style.