Stefano de Costanzo with Giorgio Locatelli. They are key players – the former pastry chef and the latter chef patron – at Locanda Locatelli in London
A few weeks ago, as part of the expert jury of a gelato competition, we found ourselves joined by two compatriots. On our left, a tall, young man wearing chef’s whites. We obviously asked him immediately where he worked: "I'm at Locanda Locatelli" - he replied smiling.
It took us a little bit to realise he was in fact the head pastry chef of the aforementioned Locanda and, after the first few ice-cream samplings, he would naturally become the unofficial "president" of our jury thanks to his professional experience. After trying plenty of Italian and non-Italian flavours (Japanese matcha, English hokey pokey and so on), we swapped contacts details and a couple of weeks later we caught up over a Sunday coffee, between a martial arts session (for him) and a dog walk (for us).
Stefano de Costanzo
Stefano de Costanzo, born in Foggia but with a long experience working abroad, trained at Alma: a fundamental, competent preparation that allowed him not only to get to lead the Locatelli pastry team but also to be able to work with some exceptional, outstanding chefs such as Ivan Icra Salicru (his predecessor at the Locanda), Árpád Szücs (at the Four Seasons in Budapest) and Davide Degiovanni, executive chef within Gordon Ramsay's enterprise.
It was actually Gordon that noticed Stefano when he, still relatively junior, was part of his workforce at the Union Street Cafe (one of Ramsay’s London restaurants offering Italian cuisine).
De Costanzo prepared a dessert inspired by Father's Day (a cigar with 'real' smoke). As soon as the famous British chef tasted it, he decided to invite him to prepare it at an event with Carlo Cracco in Italy for sixty selected guests.
An immediate and unexpected gratification, so much so that Stefano had to leave his visiting relatives alone for a few days in London while he travelled to Italy.
The sweet/smokey dessert de Costanzo created which impressed Gordon Ramsay
From 2018 he has been with chef Giorgio Locatelli, who put him in charge of the pastry station in his London restaurant; in the team, three other Italians (Cesare, Linda and Giorgio). The desserts on the menu are elegant interpretations of classics such as cassata, semifreddo and of course ice creams. A quick scan through Stefano's Instragram feed is a mouth-watering task.
Locatelli is a name known quite well to the English public thanks to its numerous television appearances; yet for a while now he has also been a very recognisable presence for the Italian public.
Since 2018 he is in fact one of the three judges on the popular Masterchef Italia programme.
In the United Kingdom he promotes our culinary traditions through interesting television series that mix art and gastronomy; he continues to spread the knowledge of our gastronomy through the dishes of his London restaurant.
Giorgio was the first Italian chef to obtain a Michelin star outside Italy and in 2002 he set up his own business with his wife opening Locanda Locatelli, a stylish venue in Marylebone; a star followed a year later. The dining room is always packed thanks to a cuisine that showcases the tradition of our ingredients with a contemporary flair.
Giorgio Locatelli with Massimo Bottura at Identità Milano 2019
What is it like to work for a somebody like Locatelli, especially since he now moves between London and Italy for filming? 'Giorgio is a very present chef. He doesn't lose sight of any detail in the kitchen, he tastes everything from breadsticks to ice cream. He works hard, because he deeply cares about what he offers to his customers'.
We had already heard that Locatelli is a friendly guy. "He really likes the contact with people, he feels at ease - Stefano confirms - he often makes an appearance in the dining room to greet the guests". And when he takes a break, he’s likely to be in his office, maybe watching the Moto GP.
Although his current boss is Italian, we ask Stefano what is – in his view - the main challenge for our compatriots working here in London.
Initially, the attitude. He feels that the British are much more direct than us, more sincere and for those who are not used to it can be difficult to get used to.
Of course, Stefano does not lack basic techniques, after all he learned from masters such as Gualtiero Marchesi; nevertheless, he is well aware that we must always cultivate ourselves, study, continue to evolve. His inspiration also comes from culture, which for him is very important (museums, theatres, opera, musicals).
Everything can be a stimulus yet traveling can be particularly significant: we share a passion for the sea, he loves free diving ... we end up talking about the Philippines, where he is going on holiday in a few months - "all that tropical fruit!" he muses enthusiastically.
It seems obvious to us that for Stefano the creative process is in motion at any given time; even when we talk about something completely different, his mind is always at work, ready to pick up ideas for new, possible dishes.
Images of Kitchen Theory
This yearning to experiment has also brought him close to molecular cuisine, in particular that of Jozef Youssef in his Kitchen Theory. With Youssef de Costanzo he has collaborated a few times and created innovative culinary concepts for major brands. In 2015 he produced some incredible dishes for an event whose title was Sensuality.
A couple of memorable plates were a visual, tactile tribute to Italian movie icons Sofia Loren and Totò: the sensual lips of the first in the dessert, spaghetti to be eaten by hand inspired by the second for the pre-dessert. For each dish, Stefano chose background scores for a total enjoyment of the senses.
He does not hide the fact that he likes being a development chef because of the creative freedom and the sense of challenge that such a specialisation entails.
The dessert dedicated to Sofia Loren
Before parting we ask him who is worth keeping an eye on here in London, and which fellow chef he admires the most: Jockey Petrie, formerly at the Fat Duck and now one of the most renowned development chefs in the country; Brett Graham of the Ledbury, a two-star establishment that produces an exceptional cuisine without ostentation, and among the new arrivals, Street XO by Spanish chef Muñoz who has brought a breath of fresh air to the London avant-garde scene.
Previews, personalities and establishments in the sweet side of the food planet
A British citizen from Naples, obsessive scuba diver, digital marketing manager Monday to Friday, foodie at any given time