From barge to relais on Etna

The story of Bleri Dervishi, 23, who landed in Italy 20 years ago. Today he’s the chef at Monaci delle Terre Nere, boutique hotel in Zafferana

29-08-2017

The story of Albanian Bleri Dervishi, who landed in Italy with his mum when he was three. He’s now the chef at Locanda Nerello inside relais Monaci delle Terre Nere, on Etna

Twenty-three years of age are usually too few for a guy to be defined a man. The same applies, almost always, to an aspiring chef. At that age – excluding rare cases – young chefs are training. The luckier do so in the family restaurant. The more ambitious are already travelling around the world’s kitchens. At 23 Bleri Dervishi, the executive chef at Locanda Nerello, the restaurant inside relais Monaci delle Terre Nere in Zafferana Etnea, is young only on paper.

Relais Monaci delle Terre Nere

Relais Monaci delle Terre Nere

Dervishi won edition 2015 of Masterchef in Albania

Dervishi won edition 2015 of Masterchef in Albania

He arrived in Italy on a barge at three, and grew up in Tuscany. He entered the kitchen at 11, beside his mother who was washing dishes, and learnt on the field from the chef of that restaurant in Chiusi Scalo. This is where he discovered his love for ingredients and preparations and never stopped cooking. He attended catering school in Chianciano Terme and continued to work while he studied. «After school, I was acquiring experience at starred Il Patriaca. Then I went to La Thuile’s  La Maison de Neige , I spent two years with Terry Giacomello at Inkiostro  and then went to Azurmendi  where I learnt rigour and discipline». Meanwhile, at 21, the Albanian in Italy («I never asked for the Italian citizenship because I played football in the youth team in Siena and they called me in the Albanian youth team) he won the second edition of MasterChef Albania.

Guido Alessandro Coffa, patron at Monaci delle Terre Nere

Guido Alessandro Coffa, patron at Monaci delle Terre Nere

«I know I may sound crazy, but I’ll conquer three stars in the next ten years», says Dervishi looking straight into your eyes with no hesitation while he moves assertively in Locanda Nerello, a jewel overlooking Etna surrounded by the vines and olive trees of patron Guido Coffa’s relais. He certainly doesn’t lack ambition, so much so he chose himself the place in which to collect the – decisively promising – fruits of his work. After reading online of Monaci delle Terre Nere, of their vegetable garden and their organic products, an emblem of biodiversity from vegetables to fruits, from oil to wine and honey, the chef wrote to Coffa on Linkedin asking to work for him. The latter had imagined the relais ever since he bought the property from the monks of Sant’Anna, tired of his life overseas as the manager of a car company.

Risotto with candied lemon, red prawn and three oreganos

Risotto with candied lemon, red prawn and three oreganos

Rock mullet, raw coulis of Monaci date tomatoes, wild fennel and saffron chips

Rock mullet, raw coulis of Monaci date tomatoes, wild fennel and saffron chips

The agreement, marked by a handshake, was a promise which is kept day after day, with the interesting dishes that Dervishi prepares with his team in the three kitchens. Yogurt and breadcrumbs are his favourite ingredients and he uses them finely as in the case of Cream of tomatoes seasoned with yogurt, breadcrumbs with sardines and capers presented as an amuse-bouche. He also uses yogurt in the Risotto with candied lemon, red prawn and three oreganos: thanks to its delicateness, it’s one of the best dishes tasted. The rock mullet (another strong suit of his) served on a raw coulis of Monaci date tomatoes and garnished with wild fennel and saffron chips is also excellent.

Pigeon with "la belle du Nordet" oyster and lime and cucumber granita

Pigeon with "la belle du Nordet" oyster and lime and cucumber granita

The  Pigeon with "la belle du Nordet" oyster and lime and cucumber granita is perfectly cooked. The dessert follows a local classic: cannolo, strictly filled with sheep’s milk ricotta, and celery leaf sorbet. Destiny will see about the stars. For sure, the night over  Locanda Nerello, will become lighter, sooner or later.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso