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In the world of “Don” Alfonso Iaccarino

"Quality ingredients, attention to seasonality and Mediterranean style are my signature. I’ve created thousands of dishes but I never lose sight of my tradition" said the famous chef of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi's restaurant

The road to Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi on the Sorrentine peninsula is long and winding, but the view is breath-taking and the food and hospitality of the Relais & Chateau “Don Alfonso 1890” are not easy to forget. We are not far from Sorrento and Positano, in a temple of Mediterranean cooking awarded many international prizes. Here Alfonso and Ernesto Iaccarino, father and son, helped by Alfonso’s wife, Livia, and their other son, Mario, work culinary wonders. Period furniture, glass chandeliers from Murano and hand-painted ceramics typical of the Sorrentine peninsula stand out in the white rooms. Dedication to authenticity marks their tireless work. Always on the go, forging the future but true to his past, here we talk to Don in person.

His philosophy.
“Although I’ve been through different artistic periods in my life, the thread of my culinary style has always been a cult for primary materials. To ensure the availability of products of excellence, in 1990 I set up an organic farm Le Peracciole at Punta Campanella overlooking Capri, which provides absolutely fresh ingredients for the restaurant kitchen and for production of oil and traditionally preserved tomatoes, lemons, fruit and vegetables.

Plans for restaurants abroad?
“We are setting up in China and will soon have a restaurant in Morocco. Quality ingredients, attention to seasonality and Mediterranean style are my signature in Italy and the world, but I adapt like a chameleon, seeking to understand the needs of my customers. In 40 years of activity, I’ve created thousands of dishes. I never lose sight of my tradition, but in different countries I take the trouble to interpret dishes so that they will be understood and appreciated.”

Extravirgin olive oil?
“I considered oil quality so important that when I began I became an oil producer in order to obtain an oil that would highlight my dishes. We concentrate on the olive varieties Minucciola, Frantoio and Nocellara del Belice. I have been a martyr for extravirgin olive oil, fighting the imperialism of butter since the eighties. The range of oils is now rich, but the passion is still with me.”

The wine list?
“Our cellar has 1500 labels; in Macau we reach 3500.”

Evolution of Italian cooking abroad?
“Great Italian cooking developed abroad between the sixties and eighties, thanks to great chefs like Gualtiero Marchesi. The concept of regional cooking acquired a broader view with great professional flair. In other countries I pay great attention to products: wherever I am, I identify what is excellent. For example, in Mongolia mushrooms, potatoes and blueberries are exceptional. When I cannot find the right Italian products I try to do as I do in Italy, growing them on site. For example, in Morocco I established an organic vegetable garden.

A dream?
“I am Neapolitan and I’m used to hard work. I wasn’t born in Milan where it is easier to capture the limelight, nor do I belong to the temples of celebrated gastronomy. To get to Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, one has to hear the call of cooking that arouses emotions: one only drives for miles if one takes home an experience. It wasn’t easy to become famous starting from here. After such difficulty, my dream would be to create nine restaurants with my mark and style in different countries. I’m as enthusiastic as I was at 18 …”

Paccheri di gragnano with fresh tuna, green chilis and origano

The restaurants
Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi –
Ristorante La Sponda a Positano – Hotel Le Sirenuse –
Ristorante Baby a Roma – Hotel Aldrovandi Palace –
Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 at Macao - Hotel Grand Lisboa –
Don Alfonso M/Y Christina O –

by Monica Sommacampagna
06 april 2009, Food & Fun > Gastronomy