March 31, 2021
By Pham Van - Read the full feature at:
Chef Simone, the head chef of award-winning il Muro Italiano Restaurant at Salinda Resort, called Phu Quoc a paradise for seafood lovers that nurtures his love for local cuisine. After years working in busy metropolises like London, Melbourne and Los Angeles, and at famous fine dining establishments like Soho House, Chef Simone decided to settle for a quiet tropical place.
"Luckily I found this beautiful island, it reminds me of my home island Sardinia."
No matter where he hangs his apron, the chef shares his culture through food by marrying the influences of Italian regions and local cuisine. "Every morning, I walk barefoot on the beach and then head to the main market to explore new products." This pared-down way of living reinforced Simone's connection to the environment, sourcing from local producers and working with what the land and sea provides.
"Great seafood is all about the freshness, and Phu Quoc’s access to the bounty of the ocean makes it a paradise for seafood lovers. I am very comfortable cooking with seafood. When I was a child, I would go to the sea side and spend time fishing with my friends all day long," Simone recalled.
Chef’s "Tagliolini Alle Vognole" is a tribute to his maritime adventures: thin homemade pasta (typical to the Emilia-Romagna region) blackened by squid ink tossed with Phu Quoc clams in white wine, garlic, and anchovies.
"One of the ingredients for the upcoming menu I am working on is the sea urchin. The sea taste reminds me of my island. We eat the raw spread on bread with some extra virgin olive oil."
He loves to softly accentuate the Asian flavors in his dishes, like serving native scallops with crispy lemongrass, creamy coconut and dill reduction in his "Capesante."
But carnivores will also rejoice at il Muro Italiano with such legendary dishes as traditional Sunday special "Papardelle alla Bolognese" or the most venerated recipe of Milan "Osso Bucco." But Simone’s favorite is definitely working with lamb.
"Imagine, I lived on an island with just 1.5million people, but we have five times more sheep! Either you end up as a shepherd or in the travel business," he laughed.
Made of sheep milk and being Sardinia’s most exported food product, Pecorino cheese also holds special sway in chef Simone’s creations from the antipasti to homemade pasta.
Adding fresh pepper from a large wooden pepper mill adds a touch of class to tableside seasoning service. Photo by Salinda Resort.
One of the most interesting yet challenging local products for Chef Simone is the island’s most beloved condiment - fish sauce. Salinda Resort has its own fish sauce factory "Ong Ky" that uses traditional production methods by pressing premium sea salt and fresh anchovies in a wooden barrel without any additives or preservatives.
"This ingredient is quite new to me, but I put a dash of it on some of my pizzas and appetizers, as it gives a distinctive umami taste to ocean-flavored dishes. But the black pepper here - I love. It’s so fragrant."
Vegetable-focused dishes shine alongside sustainable proteins from the land and sea. He is also a passionate forager, incorporating indigenous ingredients into the menu like Phu Quoc forest mushroom, "nấm tràm", that grows under the island’s eucalyptus trees to which he adds Italian porcini, creating a balanced fusion for his soup "Crema di Funghi."
The enticing fragrance of fresh herbs - from Thai basil to coriander, mint, chives and more - in the newly planted organic garden at Salinda allows Simone to freshly enhance his dishes.
"When I was little, we had a small farm, where we could harvest fresh vegetables. Every season was different, with summer offering a more colorful palette to our family meals."
From his cherished childhood memories on the coast of the Italian island to his culinary adventures on Phu Quoc, Chef Simone simply wants his food to tell his story. And there is nothing tastier than that.