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For Guys

Interview: Buona Terra’s executive chef Denis Lucchi

Like many Italian chefs, Denis Lucchi, executive chef of fine dining restaurant Buona Terra on Scotts Road, believes that the food from his homeland is the very best on the planet. EX caught up with a man who exudes passion for his profession.

When did you first take an interest in cooking?
I am not from a chef’s family but my keen interest in cooking was developed from watching my grandmother cook. She was a wonderful cook and effortlessly took care of the family’s daily meals when I was young.

What was your favourite food as a child?
I always love pasta, especially home-made pasta with any kind of sauce, which is definitely made better with meat or cheese. I have to say that pasta is my favourite food because I am Italian, and all Italians love pasta – it’s in our blood.

Were you a fussy eater or happy to try anything?
It was a rule in my family to always respect food and never refuse or waste it. I used to dislike ravioli in broth when I was very young, but now I am willing to try anything new to me.

Can you remember the first time you cooked?
I remember helping my grandmother prepare and cook ricotta and spinach ravioli when I was about 11-years-old. Cooking for the first time was like a game as I was a little boy. Cooking was always fun for me as a youngster. It was when I stepped into a professional kitchen that I understood that cooking, while fun, is really not a game.

What was the dish and how did it turn out?
It turned out great! We enjoyed the ricotta and spinach ravioli. My grandmother said it was delicious. I was definitely very proud.

When did you decide that you wanted to do it as a profession?
After I completed my diploma in IPSSAR “Caterina de Medici” in Gardone Riviera, I started working in a kitchen to see how it was professionally. I enjoyed it and, as they say, the rest was history. I am fortunate in the sense that my family has always been supportive in all the decisions I made. They knew that working in a professional kitchen would be tough but they have always been at my side, and they also supported my decision to leave the country at the age of 20.

What was your first job?
I started out as a kitchen helper during an internship while attending culinary school in Italy. During the weekends or public holidays, I would also work in other restaurants and hotels to earn a bit of extra pocket money, and at the same time gain working experience in a big professional kitchen. There were so many incidents which happened during the first few years. The professional kitchen operates at a very fast pace, so if you are not experienced and not careful, you will get burned, cut, and scalded. These accidents make you learn faster.

How tough is it in a professional kitchen when you first start?
It is very tough for me when I started as I was still a young boy at 14. That was an age where my friends were all out partying. For a young boy, working in the kitchen was not easy as I had to remember kitchen rules, hygiene and best practices. My head chefs were very strict but I was happy that I could learn from the best. The best lesson that I learnt in the kitchen is that if you do something without passion or in a hurry, it will never turn out well. The best things happen to those who are patient and willing to give a lot of love.

How quickly did you progress to become a head chef?
The career progress of chefs differ from person to person depending on their willingness to work, talents and attitude. I was fortunate to have a good head-start with my grandmother showing and teaching me how to cook. I also progressed quickly as I had the good fortune to be able to work alongside my head chefs learning the basics and slowly climbing up the ladder.

Who were your culinary heroes?
My grandmother definitely and several world-renowned Michelin-starred chefs.

Who do you look up to now?
I look up to a variety of chefs coming from background as diverse as hawker stall chefs, food court chefs to three-starred Michelin Star restaurant chefs. There will always be something unique and special, which I can learn from.

How would you describe your food?
Clean, elegant and tasty.

Any big culinary ambitions?
I would like to be recognized as a master chef and hope to run my own restaurant one day.

What is the food scene like in Singapore?
The food scene in Singapore is very vibrant and exciting. Singapore is a fast moving city and Singaporeans are very particular about the quality of food. In the last seven years since I have arrived, there have been a lot of changes, many new restaurants have opened up offering different types of cuisines. It is also very challenging as it is a competitive industry.

Do you follow the latest trends or stick to your own style?
I believe style is the key – you always have to set your own style, your identity to achieve something. Trends are fast changing but your style remains and is unique. For me, I always try to stay true to myself but I do keep my eyes open for any new trend that can help me improve my style of cooking and presentation. A good chef should always keep abreast of new ideas.