To the service of the ambassador

An interview with Danilo Cortellini, an italian in London: he runs our embassy's kitchen

by Federica Carr
Born in Abruzzo, in his early thirties, Danilo Cor

Born in Abruzzo, in his early thirties, Danilo Cortellini conquered a prestigious stage for his cuisine: since 2012 he's the head chef of the italian embassy in London

We saw him fighting tooth, nail and risotto in the TV show MasterChef The Professionals; we’re finally also seeing him cook his beautiful dishes in a number of pop up events for small groups of fans (a few days ago for example with Massimiliano Mascia, Michelin starred chef from San Domenico restaurant in Imola, Italy). But it’s his day job of chef to the Italian ambassador in London Pasquale Terracciano that is most intriguing, because is his less visible side but also perhaps the one that has been the most significant in the last few years of Danilo Cortellini’s career.

Head chef of the ambassador since 2012, Danilo also runs a personal catering company through which he employs his team on site. What is it like to be chef to an ambassador? What are the differences with a regular, restaurant based, job or as a personal chef to a non diplomat? To find out more, we met Danilo for a coffee during a work break. «It is four of us in total, in the kitchen. The brigade are my direct employees while I am the ambassador’s employee».

Basically, when mr. Terracciano will finish his mandate, technically Danilo could be out of a job. After all, this job itself happened almost by chance. The previous post holder needed to find a substitute and, being friends, put Danilo forward. The selection process was no walk in the park, but Danilo got the job thanks to his impressive cooking, with a solid base of Italian classics (in particular from Abruzzo, his birth region) paired with modern techniques and creative flair.

At work during the four-hand dinner with Massimiliano Mascia from San Domenico restaurant in Imola

At work during the four-hand dinner with Massimiliano Mascia from San Domenico restaurant in Imola

As well as cooking for the Ambassador and his family, Danilo organises the menus for all the events that the embassy hosts: from working lunches for small numbers to cocktails for 500 guests – as for the yearly Festa della Repubblica – but also sit down fundraising banquets for 140 diners, within the beautiful rooms of the 4 Grosvenor Square building. The rooms are also available to hire for external events, as long as they have an institutional characters. An event here really feels like an incredible experience: the furniture, the rooms, the paintings and the antiques make the settings truly special. Is cooking for famous guests or politicians (Mattarella, Napolitano, Blair) stressful?

«Not really, a guest is a guest regardless. Only if you are ready and plating up an ice cream or a risotto and a guest decides on an impromptu speech, then there’s a problem!». The menus for those occasions are all Danilo’s work, with the ambassador’s approval of course but their relationship is so established that at this stage there’s no need to double check anything. For private dining, the chef knows tastes and preferences of each member of the family and prepares the meals accordingly.

Ingredients often arrive from Italy, particularly if they are specialised products (such as cheese and cold cuts); for fresh produce of course, British isles offer a great selection as long as it’s in season. And what happens if a guest has a specific food intolerance or preference? «No problem at all, we prepare a different menu or dish, always served with tact and discretion to avoid attracting unwelcome attention».

Famous personalities have been here often (for example Colin Firth), but what about Italian chefs? Not yet, but Danilo hopes to be able to cook for colleagues from Italy soon.