Proud to be a chef

  • Lifestyle
  • Tuesday, 16 Nov 2010

CHEF Federico Michieletto is so obsessed with food that he would perfect a recipe again and again until it tastes right.

In fact, he became so obsessed with food that when he got off his shift at work he would go home and look up menus and recipes from cookbooks to get some inspiration.

"I think that’s how I started to like cooking. Each time I taste food, I feel there is something thatneeds to be perfected. So I go about perfecting it and in the process, I find that it tastes better,"said the 39-year-old chef who comes from an Italian family in Mogliano Veneto, asmall town located between the canals of Venice and the hills of Treviso.

Cooking comes naturally for Michieletto as he comes from a big family. He has three brothersand four sisters. Back then, watching his mother preparing food for his big family was a real joy.

Michieletto is a Malaysian at heart.

"I grew up cooking simple food at home. I was blessed to spend almost every day with mymother learning how to cook Italian delicacies such as the pasta, neck bone gravy and baccala,"said the chef.

When he was 20, Michieletto attended the Italian Culinary Arts Institute in Castel FrancoVeneto, Treviso, for four years (1984 to 1988) and found his true love - the kitchen.

While in culinary school, he worked at several places and started out as a kitchen helper at theCiga Hotel, the famous Cipriani Restaurant and the Hilton in Venice.

He tried to learn all that he could about food in the shortest time possible and spent a few yearsrefining his skills at several fine dining restaurants and hotels back home.

By the age of 24, he was already thinking on how to innovate Italian cuisine by integratingtraditional recipes with new flavours.

Coming to Malaysia

As fate would have it, this affable cook decided to make a big career decision by moving toMalaysia in 1996. He has since made Malaysia his home for the past 15 years and has beeninvolved in many culinary projects with various chefs' associations.

In 1996, Michieletto was hired to work as the head of chef at Modesto in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.From then on, he was assigned to work at all Modesto outlets including the ones in Penang,Sunway Lagoon and Singapore and teach other chefs about Italian and Western cuisine.

While honing his techniques, Michieletto had the opportunity to cook for many top celebrities,chefs, politicians, corporate figures and royalties, who have now become his friends.

"Working at Modesto was an incredible culinary journey as it guided me to my true passion as ayoung Italian chef," said Michieletto who was later promoted to executive chef.

After years of working at Modesto, the restaurant received raving reviews and earned goodstar ratings. Soon many loyal customers became his friends and followed him wherever he wasposted.

His intense passion for food guided him to showcase the best of Italian cuisine and lifestyle toMalaysians.

"I notice most Malaysians are only familiar with certain pastas and pizzas like the lasagne, carbonara and macaroni. Italian food is not about pizzas and pastas only. We have other specialdishes that Malaysians are not aware of. I am slowly weaving them into the menu.

"Italian cuisine has been influenced by many foreign elements as Italy was invaded by othercountries in the past. The food is greatly influenced by the Germans, French, Spanish and Arabs.There are a variety of dishes with thousands of different flavours. I have been trying to showthis and educate my customers and students about Italian cuisine," said Michieletto who is stillsingle.

At the same time, he hopes to give a style of authentication to Italian cuisine which he feels issomewhat missing in Malaysia.

Moving on with passion

Today, as the corporate chef of Tai Thong Group of Restaurants, he has brought his talentsand skills to independent restaurants. With more than 150 chefs under his tutelage, Michielettois responsible to oversee all the kitchens under the Tai Thong Group of Restaurants that includesthe San Francisco Steakhouse, Santini Ristorante Italiano, Palms Cafe & Bistro, Royal Thai,Delicious Nyonya, Seafood Restaurant and Room Eighteen.

His latest project is the opening of 'Il Primo' Restaurant in Jalan Conlay, Kuala Lumpur.

"Il Primo which means 'The First' is a restaurant with a difference. It boasts of four kitchensnamely Western, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Seafood and pastry. We give good quality food withgood service," said the chef who is constantly coming up with new dishes.

Michieletto showing off his book, Pasta From My Italy.

Having been in this country for many years, Michieletto regards himself as a Malaysian.

"I like to think I am a Malaysian at heart, though I’m an Italian. I've seen the country prosperin front of my eyes. I have followed the political scene, the building of Twin Towers, themushrooming of many eating outlets and how the public services have improved for the better.

"All these have been a good experience for me. Despite, what is written in the papers, I thinkMalaysia is doing better every year," said Michieletto who is fond of Malaysian hawker food butavoids the durian as he regards it as 'overbearing.'

However, he feels the effort to promote Malaysian food is lacking and not aggressive enough ornot projected correctly.

"Malaysia has an abundance of cuisine, be it Malay, Indian or Chinese. But the trouble is, youcan’t just try to promote all your best food at one go. You should just focus on one or two ofyour best cuisine and 'sell' this aggressively abroad," said Michieletto who lists curry laksa asone of his favourite food.

He also loves steamed fish, banana leaf rice and “nasi lemak with proper sambal and rendang".

Besides being a full time cook, Michieletto is also the president of Chef Association of Malaysia(CAM), a position which he has held for the last 2 years.

He takes on this job with pride and enthusiasm. In fact, he admits that he is the first ‘mat salleh’to hold the position after 30 years.

"I am the seventh president of the association which has a membership of more than 5,000 chefs.CAM is also part of the World Association Chef Society (WACS) which has about 9 millionchefs all over the world. Part of my CAM activities is to train new chefs, judge competitions andconduct classes or seminars to stimulate the younger generation of chefs," he said.

As prove of his dedication to his favourite Italian food, Michieletto has produced a cookbook,Pasta From My Italy. The book, which he laboured over a year to compile, was published two yearsago. The same year, the book was awarded 'The Gourmand Award for Best Italian WorldCookbook'.

"The book is something that I wanted to leave behind, just to show how passionate I am as acook. It all started with an idea to create a book with the ABCs of pasta recipes. This includesclassic pasta dishes and other sections such as filled pasta, ravioli, gnocchi and risoto. Thereis also a section on pasta prepared in new styles that are suited to modern dining tastes," saidMichieletto.

According to this versatile chef, basic classic cooking is at its best if we make use of freshproducts and combine it with perfection, innovation, taste, fun and personal memories to create aperfect-tasting food.

Michieletto believes a chef is a prima donna and that aspiring chefs should not be ashamed ofadmitting they are chefs.

"You need passion to excel as a chef. It’s not a simple job or just about cooking. It's a well-paying job. A lot of local chefs are being paid handsomely in Dubai, Macau, Shanghai, Europe,USA and Singapore. This is a real profession," he said.

He recalled, back in those days, one becomes a cook because there are no other jobs.

"Now, being a chef is a profession and it pays well despite the long hours. So be proud if you arechef," said the chef with much pride.

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