Armando Codispoti, an Italian in Beirut

Ten questions to the globetrotter Calabrian chef, now at Gavi in Lebanon. He’s opening a special restaurant in Milan in July

02-05-2018

Armando Codispoti, born in Calabria in 1971, is the chef at restaurant Gavi in Beirut since three years ago. In July, he’ll open Otium in Milan

We met Armando Codispoti on the occasion of the Chic Congress in Garfagnana. He’s one the 18 new members of the association, the only one (together with Gennaro Nasti) to have a restaurant abroad. We asked him a few questions.

Where were you born and raised?
In Catanzaro, in June 1971. I was raised in my beloved Calabria, then in Florence, Bologna and London.

Who are your teachers?
I’m mostly self-trained. I attended catering school in Soverato and then Alma in Colorno: Gualtieri Marchesi’s lesson on how to compose a menu was unforgettable. A person who taught me to use and give value to local products was Alberto Bettini from Amerigo1934 in Savigno, a professional who’s more than just serious. After working in Italy, I started travelling around the world.

Where to?
I worked in 20 different countries, tasting the specialties of 46 nations, experimenting endless combinations of flavours. The first experience was in London: I made arancini at home and sold them to Italian bars in Soho. Then I moved to Daphne's, an important Italian restaurant in South Kensington. I was chef de cuisine at JW Marriott in Kuwait, at Sandals Resort in the Bahamas, sous chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, then in Spain, Prague, Bratislava… My friends call me ‘the cosmopolitan chef’.

Maki with Acquerello rice and Piedmontese steak tartare, pecorino fondue and chilli pepper 

Maki with Acquerello rice and Piedmontese steak tartare, pecorino fondue and chilli pepper 

Mosaic of tuna and avocado with lime and bergamot

Mosaic of tuna and avocado with lime and bergamot

When did you start working in Lebanon?
I arrived in Beirut in November 2014 and opened restaurant Gavi on the 17th March 2015. I had already been there in 2006. It was love at first sight. I knew that eventually I would be back. I’m still here.

What do you find fascinating of this country?
Its similarities with Italy. In Lebanon too, there are no set rules. You celebrate daily life, because there’s no certainty about the future. They enjoy having a good meal or a drink out. They do it often. Plus Beirut has an incredible nightlife. 

How about the food?
They have great traditions. Just to give you an example: it was the Phoenicians who taught us to make bottarga. The best of Syria and Turkey meets here, and their cuisine is beloved all around the Middle East. Even Carlin Petrini adores Lebanon: the local Slow Food section is very active.

What do the Lebanese think of Italian cuisine?
They are very appreciative, when it’s properly made. As often the case abroad, there are many weak imitations and as chefs we have to fight with requests like Fettuccine Alfredo. Ever since we opened Gavi, four such establishments have closed. 

Salted cod marinated with yuzu, cooked in the oven with coal and smoked with a sauce of artichokes and pecorino

Salted cod marinated with yuzu, cooked in the oven with coal and smoked with a sauce of artichokes and pecorino

What are your signature dishes?
My current coup de coeur are Gnocchi with purple potatoes and truffle, Salted cod marinated in yuzu, cooked in the charcoal oven and smoked with a sauce of artichokes and pecorino and Mosaic of tuna and avocado with a dressing of lime and bergamot. I love Itameshi, a current of Italian cuisine with Japanese influences. The two traditions have many similarities: just think of the Italian style sushi, introduced by Gualtiero Marchesi. I’ve been working on this for some time, paying attention to enhancing our cuisine and avoiding, as often the case, unpleasant mixtures.

Your latest passions?
Nutrition and the development of anti-ageing cuisine. I’m experimenting the use of blue and green spirulina. Before that, I liked working with phytoplankton and insects. 

Future plans?
I’m about to open a restaurant in Milan, Otium. The sous chef will be Lebanese. We will offer Lebanese marinades, with the best Italian meat, cooked in a charcoal oven. It’s scheduled to open in late July.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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