He is known all over the world for his magnificent pasta dishes. We have met one of the finest chefs in the world, Maestro Gianluigi Dotti.
– I live in heaven! Mr. Dotti says about his life. – To make food is all I ever wanted to do. All my life has concentrated on this. It is my first thought in the morning and my last thought before I go to sleep. My best dreams are about food, good food.
We are in the kitchen of Gianluigi’s own restaurant i Napoli. He seems to be in constant movement while talking, right now he is chopping chili. It is as if he is comfortable only when he is busy preparing food.
Gianluigi Dotti is a rather fat, middle-aged man, his head is bald on top with a long pony-tail at the back and a huge moustache in front, and the moustache seems to be attached to a bright smile… He really became famous when he won the Bocuse d’or, the world cup for cooks.
– How did you feel when you won the Bocuse d’or?
– Oh, I felt wonderful! This moment is my treasure, I will keep it forever. It was a tremendous honour for me to win – I beat the French on their homeground, you know!
– Can you describe your winning dishes?
– Oh yes! The antipasta was a pasta, too, a tagliatelle with butterfried asparagus, lemon, garlic and chili. The pasta very al dente and the asparagus, lemon juice, garlic and chili fried for twenty-five seconds exactly – very important, not a second more, just to release the flavour – together with olive oil, a good piece of butter, and basil. A very tasty dish. A piece of poetry. For the main course I made a pizza with peperoni. I make the pastry as thin as fine paper, you know, spread the pomodoro – the sauce made from the best tomatoes with chili and garlic, always chili and garlic – then cover the surface completely with a very special peperoni together with onion and red onion, and sprinkle it generously with basil, oregano and thyme. And finally: my own mozzarella, a secret. What more can I say? This is music. For dessert I made a salade de fruits flambée – well, I had to put in spomething French, you see – with honey semi-freddo, which is an Italian specialty…
He goes on to describe this dish in great detail, but he speaks so fast, and I lose track of the things and ways and whys. Mr. Dotti does get very enthousiastic when he talks about food.
The Pasta King says that he always wanted to cook.
– I made my first dinner when I was six years old. It was not a masterpiece, I must admit, but it was not bad. Not bad at all.
He speaks a fluent and quite understandable English, his Italian accent only spices it up.
– Do you have a favourite dish?
– Food! Everything you can eat is a favourite. But I must say: my lasagna is very good…
Gianluigi, or just Luigi as he is called, has already made a delicious dish with fusilli and prawns. Now he starts preparing a new dish, and again he begins by chopping chili.
– Yes, I use a lot of garlic and chili when I cook. Some people find it too hot, like people from your country, I think, from Sweden. But I think it gives a wonderful taste to everything. How can you make decent food without garlic? And what is garlic without chili?
His restaurant, “La piccola pasta”, is really very small, and many people wonder why he has made this choice. After all, with a famous name like his he could have run a big business?
– I don’t like big things, they scare me. I am the only one who works in this kitchen, and for me that is important. Since I serve so few guests at a time, I can give them better service. And I prefer to work alone – except when I cook together with my son at home.
I ask which dishes he makes in his restaurant, and Dotti answers that he can make anything – sometimes he even let his guests choose freely. But most of the guests want pasta or pizza.
Every time he finishes talking, he looks up into the ceiling, waiting for my next question – but he never stops chopping, cutting, stirring, beating or whatever he is doing at the moment. His gaze makes me throw a glance to the ceiling, too. It is yellow. The walls, however, are painted in a bright turqoise colour. This is a colourful and cheerful room, with a lot of light.
– Have you ever thought of writing a book? You must have recipes enough for several?
– Yes, I think that would be really interesting, but I don’t think I have the time right now. But next year, maybe? he smiles, his pony-tail swinging from side to side as he is beating some eggs.
– How did you become such a good cook?
– Oh, I made food all the time, you know. I read books and cooking magazines. I studied other cooks at work. This is important for young cooks, I think, to find a good chef they admire, and learn the art from the artist.
Luigi doesn’t talk so fast now. He is thinking. Even his hands stop working for a moment.
– But as important, when you have learnt a lot, is to find your personality, and develop your own style.
My next question may seem unnecessary, the answer is evident speaking with Maestro Gianluigi Dotti:
– What do you thing is most important in life?
– Food, of course! What else?
He laughs and shakes his head…
Dotti emphasizes the importance of good, fresh ingredients: the best tomatoes, fresh herbs, fresh eggs, tender meat, best quality flour, etcetera. This leads me to my next question:
– Do you think the food you make is healthy?
– But of course – it is healthy to eat, isn’t it? It is healthy to enjoy yourself! It is healthy to be happy. And I use a lot of vegetables…
Finally Dotti has finished cooking, and we go to sit down at a table in the tiny restaurant. He starts serving the meal he has prepared for us. We eat in silence, and I don’t know which one of us enjoys it the most, the artist himself or me. His food is delicious and incredibly tasty— I don’t know what to say, how to describe it. It is something beyond words.
Maybe that is why we don’t speak anymore?
Much later, just as I am about to leave, I ask him my last question:
– How many sorts of pasta can you mention, Mr. Dotti?
He laughs. Then Maestro Gianluigi Dooti, the King of Pasta, winner of the Bocuse d’or and a passionate lover of food, steps back, opens his arms, his mouth, his lungs and lets out a warm, full-bodied tenor, singing as if the entrance door of this humble restaurant in downtown Napoli were the stage of La Scala di Milan
– Spaghetti, macaroni, loumaconi, pipe rigate, penne rigate, rigatoni, risoni, pappardelle, fusilli, eliche, bucati lunghi, orechiette, cannelloni, sardi, fettucine, lasagne, cotelle, cavatappi, cresti di gallo, gnocchi, ziti, fricelli, ruote — —
Walking back to my hotel at night, I wondered what would last longer: the wonderful aftertaste of the meal that this master had prepared for us, or the sound of his voice giving this irresistible aria di pasta.