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Interview with Anthony Torino, chef at the Mamma Rosa restaurant in San Polo D'Enza (RE)
Mamma Rosa is in a corner of Basilicata in the province of Reggio-Emilia. A restaurant where substance takes precedence over style. The fish is fresh and of a very high quality and chef Antonio Torino knows just how to get the most out of his shellfish and seafood with simple, delicious offerings based upon the authentic traditions of the South.
I am self-taught and I think I have fish in my DNA as I was born just 50 metres from the sea in Maratea in the province of Potenza. I learned the art of cooking from my mother Mary. Since then, the kitchen has become my almost therapeutic passion. I see happy customers and I know that they will return as this is a drug that can hook you very quickly.
So you enjoy working with fish?
I was born into a family of fishermen and I learned from them that fish need to be treated with kid gloves. First, you must know what to buy and then it’s a case of handling and serving them cleanly and with respect. In other words, the most difficult thing to master is how to present simple and well served fish, fresh to the table, without too many frills. The true hero should be the fish not the chef.
What are the favourite dishes among your customers?
Our signature dish is a fish soup prepared with fresh vegetables, squid, cuttlefish, shrimp, cod and Sarconi beans. It’s delicate and sweet. Others include our tasty green pappardelle with scallops, sole, shrimp and vegetables, fish cooked al forno with potatoes, fennel and onion. Tender and simple, you can almost smell the sea.
I was among the first to serve pesce crudo when perhaps the Emilian people were not quite ready for it. Scampi served with candied orange, rice rolls and grouper, a dish we call "lust", sea bass with zucchini cream and raw oysters with white chocolate cream, parsley and garlic. These main courses are presented crudo with creativity and are inspired by my son Fabio who learned these techniques in various starred restaurants such Ristorante Perbellini and al Tramezzo in Parma.
Any passions or small obsessions?
Order and cleanliness are fundamental to any fish restaurant. I also have a compulsion to explain things constantly to my customers. Often, our non-regulars will pay too much attention to how a dish looks and not to its substance. The Chef's job is sometimes to head into the dining room and explain discreetly, without being intrusive, what's on the plate, the raw materials that have been used and how it has been cooked.
Who takes care of the wine list?
Savino, my partner, who has worked with me since ‘85. Our specialist area is the sparkling wines, both Italian and French.
Savino has a passion for small confectionery and our customers are always so enthusiastic about these. We serve a wonderful dish that comprises around thirty different types of chocolate…milk, dark, salted, with fruit. The most popular of these specialties is the fig praline. Savino uses sun-dried figs, slices them finely and soaks them for 24 hours in a good quality rum before dipping them in milk chocolate. They are simply delicious.
San Polo d'Enza
Menu 48/70 Euros – A la Carte 45/80