EVER WONDERED WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A CHEF IN A THREE MICHELIN STAR KITCHEN WHEN THE HEAT IS ON? NOW IMAGINE TAKING IT UP A NOTCH AND ADDING A LARGE HELPING OF HIGH-OCTANE ADRENALINE AS THE TOP CHEF FOR FORMULA ONE, TRAVELLING THE GLOBE AND COOKING FOR CHAMPIONSHIP RACING DRIVERS AND HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY. WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF FABRIZIO TANFANI.
As career trajectories go, Fabrizio’s stratospheric rise from chef school on the island of Elba to Florence’s three Michelin star restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiorri and then onto Hilton resorts in New York, LA and San Francisco is already impressive. And when Fabrizio returned to his home town of Piombino to open his own restaurant, the Osteria Peccato, you might have expected the story to stop there. Then came a call, inviting him to Barcelona to cook for a special event. It turned out to be an ‘interview’ to become Benetton’s executive chef travelling with the Formula 1 team, and on his first day, Fabrizio cooked dinner for 75 Russian VIPs and Fernando Alonso and his family. How did it feel? ‘Can you imagine, here I was inside this amazing circus with all my heroes, Jarno Trulli the Italian racing driver, and Fernando Alonso. It was incredible. Beyond words.’
Flavio Briatore must have been just as impressed, as Fabrizio was immediately hired as the resident executive chef, travelling with the Formula One team as well as overseeing the GP2 and GP3 series kitchens, feeding over 500 for lunch and 400 for dinner through the season. 20 races, and 15 or 16 tests across the world from Abu Dhabi to Australia. Logistically that must have been quite a challenge. ‘Of course. It was a lot of work to source ingredients for a different menu each day in each country. But it’s very inspiring too. You’re essentially creating new dishes incorporating the spices, seasoning and ingredients of each country. Local food is so important, and you pick up the flavour profiles at each location you visit. One of my favourite places to cook was Japan, not only for the fresh flavours but also their knife skills of the local team – they were ninjas with knives!’
It might be a coincidence that in the year he joined the Benetton F1 team as its executive chef, Fernando Alonso won the World Championships, but we like to think it had quite a lot to do with Fabrizio’s cooking. What was Fernando Alonso’s favourite meal? ‘Steak on the grill and pasta with tomato sauce. Simple but just perfect for him. He would come and hide out in the kitchen sometimes – racing is a sport which is very demanding and there were always journalists around, but in the kitchen he could be himself. Often when the drivers are at a loose end they come into the kitchen because they like the atmosphere and they can just be relaxed.’
It wasn’t just famous racing drivers in Fabrizio’s kitchen. ‘One of my best memories is cooking for Michael Douglas. He was my idol ever since Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone, so it was amazing to meet him myself. He asked for seafood pasta, so I made him an artisan calamarata pasta with razor fish, fresh tomato, saffron and lemon zest. And then a dish from my book, tuna tartare with avocado and melon seasoned with Persian blue salt.’ And then there was the time in Budapest that Fabrizio cooked for James Cameron and the cast of Avatar and didn’t even realise… ‘I only found out later when I was in the disco at the F1 party and realised it was the Avatar actor, Sam Worthington. I didn’t recognise him – lots of famous Hollywood actors are quite short in real life.’
Fabrizio even found time to squeeze in a season as the chef for Flavio Briatori’s superyacht, where dinner guests included Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Heidi Klum (well you would, wouldn’t you) as well as writing his own cookery book full of his recipes from the Formula One circuit, ‘Miles and Meals’ for Pirelli and having a steak cook-off at the book-launch in Montecarlo with Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean. Who won? ‘Jenson wasn’t bad, he had a good wrist action on the pan, but Romain Grosjean was the better cook. They cooked fillet steak with pepper sauce, and the secret is to have the pan and the olive oil very hot so it seals the meat without burning. Never cook it too much!’
After eight years with Formula One’s Benetton and then Pirelli team, these days Fabrizio is working for The Calvani Group as their executive chef developing the exciting new Terminal GBJ project where he will oversee the kitchen. You’ll also find him at La Cantina where he’s launching a new a la carte menu this month alongside the restaurant’s classic pizza and pasta dishes. Think dishes that owe their heritage to Italian tradition and taste but created with hyper-local ingredients. So carbonara with home-cured pig cheek & eggs from Potage Farm, burrata mozzarella made from Jersey milk, artisan fresh pasta, 30-day aged Jersey beef, local smoothhound shark meatballs, whole pig salami and Jersey honey pannacotta.
It’s modern high-end local eating at La Cantina but with a classic laid-back Italian approach. Choose smaller dishes which give you the ability to eat a progression of courses in a traditional Italian way, or just stop for a fantastic plate of artisan pasta and a glass of imported Italian wine. You might even get a chance to try a few of Flavio Briatori’s favourite dishes…