As we approach the launch of Casa Hotel’s authentic Italian restaurant Sapori di Casa, I met up with executive head chef Paul Lucas to know more about what drives him, what makes him tick and what makes his food and his restaurant so irresistibly amazing.
Chef Paul Lucas hails from the North Italian town of Lodi, in Lombardy. He is responsible for hand-picking the authentic Italian foods on the menus at Sapori di Casa. The menu changes frequently. Paul is also responsible for everything that comes out of his kitchen at Sapori di Casa and he ensures that it is spot on in terms of taste, texture and presentation, completely worthy of his association! So here’s a look at the man, his talent and his pride in authentic Italian cuisines.
I got my first restaurant job at the age of 16 whilst I was studying at a hotel and catering college in Pavia, Lombardy. There was a pizzeria on my street called ‘The Cat and The Fox’ where I used to go with my parents for pizza. So one day, I asked the owner if I could help out on busy nights and wash the dishes.
This was some 35 years ago and I have never forgotten my first shift when we made over 300 pizzas on a Friday night. The magic of the professional kitchen conquered me totally and I have never left the kitchen since.
I got my real reward as a head chef from an Italian Michelin guide in a restaurant called Caffe Nazionale where I had originally started working as a commis chef. My signature dish then was guinea fowl ravioli with saffron sauce.
Italians do not compromise with their food. Food is bigger than religion in Italy. Just look it up on YouTube, what happens when a pizza delivery business in Naples tries to deliver pizza with ham and pineapple to customers for fun.
This all comes from corporate multinationals like Pizza Hut who calculate that Germans like ketchup and Brits BBQ sauce so they put it on your pizza. But guess what, there’s no Pizza Hut in Italy at all. They know well (that) they could not survive.
Then, of course, you have all the non-Italian chicken, pasta and pizza places decorated in Italian national colours. After being inspired by Pizza Hut’s impressive success they will serve you a ‘meat feast’ on your pizza!
Our menu changes constantly, even on a weekly or daily basis. Right now, I prefer Paccheri pasta with Tuscan lentil ragout’. It’s actually a vegan dish and it’s impressive how much flavour you can get just from vegetables and lentils.
This is a big myth which unfortunately or I’d say fortunately is not true. The more south you go in Italy, the less Parmesan is used. You might actually struggle to find Parmesan in a Sicilian supermarket. It is again only outside Italy where you find people asking you for Parmesan with your seafood spaghetti and it’s the thing that drives me crazy.
Italians live longer than (the people of) any other nation because of the diet. They eat lots of fresh vegetables, fish and fruit. Even children! There are no kids in Italy who would say yak to a vegetable or no kids who would not eat the bread unless the skin was cut off. There is nothing easier than producing an authentic Italian vegan dish as there are thousands of them and you don’t need to substitute anything to make them vegan.
I love our homemade focaccia to start with. For the first course, I would recommend our lasagne Bolognese just to make the guest understand what a difference it is to have this classic that everyone knows of, made in-house with freshly made egg pasta and real Bolognese ragout without cream, or some brown sauce, or pots of stock.
For the main meal, I think our piglet spezzatino with Roman gnocchi is simply stunning in its whole simplicity and for the dessert, I’d go with chocolate bunet al rum, which is typically eaten only in winter so it will be changing (its place on the menu) soon. With these dishes, I would recommend red Barbera wine.
Right now we have another classic on our menu, less known but no less delicious. It’s called Torta della nonna which translates to ‘the grandma’s tart’. It’s made of shortcrust pastry and creme patisserie infused with vanilla pods and lemon. But you need to hurry up if you want to try it because as I said before, our menus are constantly changing.
Italian cuisine is extremely simple. The only real protagonist is the ingredient itself. If you have the right tomato, you need to add nothing (else). No sugar or vinegar or anything. So, I’d say my cuisine, same as all authentic Italian cuisine, is only made out of the right ingredient, passion and comes from the heart.