Chef Mateo, 34, is the fresh face behind the kitchen at Mediterraneo Junction. EatOut jumped at the chance to chat with the affable, down-to-earth chef who has worked for the last decade, setting up and running kitchens in Italy, Ireland and Spain. Here’s what he had to say.
Where did you get your passion for food?
I’ve always grown up around good food. My father is a chef and I spent my early years around the restaurant that my father and uncles owned and ran in San Michele all’Adige, a small town in Trentino, northern Italy. The restaurant, Da Silvio, is still around!
What inspired you to start cooking?
Well, when I was 15, we moved to a small town near Bologna, Italy, where my father set up another restaurant. I would work there in my spare time from school. As I grew older, I got to learn about many different aspects of the kitchen, from pastry making to preparing meat and fish. At the same time, I was also training to cook vocationally at school.
What do you think makes Italian food so special and popular?
One thing I can say about Italians is that there is a deep attachment to tradition and a deep sentimentality when it comes to food. When an Italian travels or lives abroad, they will seek a way to have or even make the food that they grew up with. With that emotional connection also comes an inherent passion for fresh produce and a real dedication to making great food.
What has been your biggest challenge working in Kenya?
Working in Kenya has been both one of my most rewarding and challenging experiences. You’re working to train your team to understand where you are coming from when it comes to methodology, flavours and presentation. Having said that, I really enjoy working with my team and learning from them, too!
Yes. Many places.
Where have you had your best meal in Nairobi?
At Mediterraneo, of course.
Ok! What about your best meal abroad?Is there a restaurant where you have had an unforgettable meal?
That is a difficult question to answer because I have perfect dishes that compose the perfect meal, which I can never have in a restaurant…. I make it myself. But it always has to end with home-made gelato (ice cream)!
I think the biggest challenge for us as a group affects the entire restaurant industry. Traffic and the resulting lack of efficient mobility means that customers are less willing to travel distances to dine. The recent security situation has also affected footfall to places like shopping malls. For Mediterraneo, though, the focus has always been on quality and consistency.
What is your favourite dish on the menu that you feel patrons must try?
Tortolloni goccia d’oro (golden drop) – a home-made pasta stuffed with Ricotta, Parmesan cheese and parsley served with a sage scented hollandaise sauce. The pork and apple ravioli is also fantastic.
Can you tell us one thing that very few people know about you?
I’m really passionate about music. In fact, I’d say I play the bass guitar like a professional!