Introducing Paolo Lavezzini, new Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
We meet Paolo Lavezzini, the new Executive Chef at the iconic florentine Hotel
On the occasion of the reopening of Il Palagio, the starred restaurant of Four Seasons Hotel Firenze that is once again available for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday (reservation required), here is our special interview with Paolo Lavezzini, the new Executive Chef of the iconic Florentine hotel.
The tattoos on his arms are covered by his Chef’s jacket, and the Harley Davidson has been left in the garage, but his smile and eyes alone tell a lot about his personality, and above all, an eagerness to get things done. So we meet Paolo Lavezzini, the new Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, the trump card called on to replace Vito Mollica, the face of the Hotel since its opening. A native of Emilia Romagna, he had his first experience in the best fine dining restaurants on the Tuscan coast when he was just 16. He later honed his culinary skills in some of Europe’s most prestigious restaurants, first at the Carpaccio del Royal Monceau in Paris, followed by 3 Michelin-star restaurants such as Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée, and Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence where he worked alongside Chef Riccardo Monco for seven years. We meet him shortly after his arrival from Brazil, where he worked for almost 10 years, starting at the Hotel Fasano in Rio de Janeiro and then joining the preopening team of Four Seasons Hotel São Paulo, becoming the Executive Chef of the Neto restaurant.
Where did your passion for cooking come from?
To say I was inspired by my grandmother who raised me may seem like an Italian cliché, but in my case it’s true. I’d spend Sundays helping make lunch for the family, with pots on the stove and the windows fogged up with condensation as we rolled out the pasta.
This isn’t the first time you’ve lived and worked in Florence. What was your experience at Enoteca Pinchiorri like?
I arrived at Enoteca Pinchiorri in 1998. I was 20 and Florence immediately became a second home for me. I first stayed four years, then returned in 2006 and stayed with them for another three. It was an important experience in terms of work but not only, so much so that Riccardo (head chef at Enoteca Pinchiorri, ed) is my daughter’s godfather.
What does being Executive Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze mean to you?
Being a Four Seasons chef is a dream, and in Florence, even more so. This building, the garden ... I often look around and I’m dumbfounded with amazement.
What is your kitchen philosophy?
My kitchen philosophy is based on the importance of sourcing top quality natural ingredients from small producers. I want to be the interpreter of these suppliers who in turn are messengers of their own land. I like all dishes to honour seasonality, including bread - I would like to capture the time of year we are living in a loaf. This fall we are doing it with a bread made from spelt, rye and Tuscan cereals, for the winter we will work with chestnut flour. The same goes for the aperitif we have created, served in a small box that resembles a jewellry casket. Of course, given our international clientele, we must go even further, but I would like to pursue this philosophy in all its purity at Il Palagio, perhaps leaving more room for this other aspect in the Atrium menu.
Any particular suppliers you have selected in this initial period?
Vito left me an incredible list of suppliers. Some that I already knew introduced me to others, such as the owner of the Maiano farm, a wonderful place just outside Florence, where they raise hens in a completely natural way, using them to fertilize the soil, as it used to be done. I couldn’t not mention these eggs.
What did you bring with you from Brazil?
I brought just one dish with me from São Paulo, which in Brazil was dedicated to Tuscany and which here, vice versa, I dedicate to Brazil: a suckling pig cooked in olive oil, sautéed in a pan, served with savoy cabbage and a salad of bananas, chilli and lime.
Tell us about yourself through your dishes.
The one thing all the dishes on our menu have in common is a focus on locally sourced raw ingredients typical of our region, and from there we create some dishes that are adventurous and some more comfort, to satisfy diners who expect something new and those who seek tradition. So we have more adventurous dishes like aubergine, served like a tarte tatin, topped with a powder consisting of chopped dehydrated and burnt aubergine scraps, a tomato and rhubarb ice cream and Tuscan pecorino powder. A comfort dish might be guinea fowl agnolotti, with Casentino porcini mushrooms, given a touch of my homeland, Parma, with a slightly tart Parmesan cream. And lastly, a dish referencing Tuscan tradition - pigeon en cocotte, served with beetroot, pollen from the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and a dolceforte sauce of chocolate, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, vinegar and butter.
What are your favourite places in Tuscany and Florence?
My go-to place has always been the hills, with their hamlets and farms... otherwise I love going home to Versilia. While in Florence I have always liked walking at night, discovering and enjoying amazing corners of the city.