When not tending to the eight-hectare organic fruit and vegetable garden that supplies his family’s nearly 130-year-old restaurant on the Sorrentine Peninsula – it overlooks the Isle of Capri – chef Don Alfonso Iaccarino is travelling the world. In addition to the two he runs in Italy, he operates, or has operated, restaurants in New Zealand, Macau, Marrakech, Morocco and, this summer, has just opened his first North American restaurant, Don Alfonso 1890, in Toronto. The multiple-Michelin-starred chef is a special guest at top restaurants around the world, he’s the global ambassador for bergamot (the citrus fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its unique character) and by his own estimation has visited more than 80 countries. We recently caught up with chef Alfonso in-between flights to find out how he manages to keep sharp among all those time zones, where he loves to eat and where he thinks people should visit next.
The Most Exciting Food in the World Right Now
Macau is really fascinating. It blends Portuguese and Chinese together, of course they have some straight Chinese, but now all the best chefs in the world are in Macau. All the best Thai, Italian, French, traditional Chinese. They’re making a lot of effort to develop this place first with the casinos. There are 1.4 billion Chinese right next door, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore are all nearby, there are billions of people and they’re using restaurants to draw people from all over the world.
His Favourite Place to Vacation
I am a special case, because I love my country very much and I have an eight-hectare organic farm that’s facing the Isle of Capri on the coast. We have a lemon garden, olive garden, vegetable garden and fruit garden. My dogs are there. My best time is when I can stay there. I go to the restaurant and organize things, talk with my staff and, after about 9 a.m., I go to my farm for a couple of hours and that’s my favourite time. It’s paradise. It keeps me young.
I fly Emirates the most. They have beautiful interiors – I love the colour of the interiors. When you fly Emirates you find people from all over the world working for them. The staff is excellent. They have great lounges where you can eat, where they have decent food. There’s always fresh fruit which is important because I never eat on the plane.
On Airplane Food
This is one of the biggest disasters. I had an experience with Lufthansa where they approached some of the best chefs in the world and I was one of the chefs chosen to provide food for their first-class cabins. That was a great experience, but normally I never eat in airplanes. I try just to eat some rolls with cheese and fruit, fruit, fruit, fruit and plenty of water.
On Getting to Know a New City
The first thing I do when I get to a new city is visit the market. This is one of my favourite things to do. The fish market in Tokyo is amazing, of course, but one of my favourites at the moment is the fish market in Dubai. What they’re doing in Dubai is incredible. You need a motorbike to get from one end of the market to the other. The old market was around for 60 years and the new one just opened last year. It’s traditional and modern together and everyone can go. They have beautiful fresh fish from around the world, but many other products, as well.
On Choosing a Hotel
Normally, I like to go with family-owned hotels. If I can, I’ll always choose traditional hotels. I don’t like modern so much. I hate a hotel where you can’t open the windows. I almost always go with Relais & Chateaux. The most important thing is smiling people. When you arrive if people seem happy to see you that’s crucial. If they seem stressed it makes me feel stressed. I always tell that to my staff, I ask them to, “Please smile, smile.”
On Undiscovered Italy
Tourists, they always do Rome, Florence, Venice, sometimes Naples, but for me if they want to see Italy they must do from Naples south. Crotona is fabulous as well, because it’s Greek and Roman. The nice thing about Italy is if you love skiing we’ve got the Alps and they’re fantastic. If you love art: Florence, Venice, Rome. Napoli, my hometown, is beautiful, too. It’s complicated, but it’s beautiful.