August 13, 2013

Interview with Hilton's New Executive Chef, Paulo Rocco

It's nice to have the chance to sit and talk to the people behind the kitchen preparing our food at a restaurant. Every once in a while I enjoy the company of a chef...  I recently met Hilton's new appointed executive chef Mr. Paulo Rocco over a round table at Venezia, the hotel's Italian restaurant. We enjoyed a calm diner where Paulo talked to me about his plans in Lebanon and what made him come to our country today.  Hilton_Chef_Beirut_Lebanon_Paolo_Rocco_01 Thirty years ago, Paulo started his dream job, preparing fine plates for the world to enjoy. A journey around 10 countries, Paulo has learned a lot about different types of cuisines. When it comes to Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, Chinese or even Middle Eastern cuisines, Paolo has a rich and fruitful past which enables him to master the art of cooking, while focusing on the freshest ingredients each and every country has to offer. Tell us what you know about the Arab world...

Dubai, where I stayed for the last couple of years, is a city I fell in love with. The city of diversities, the city of ingredients, the city of different cultures where everyone blends into the system finding a place to express himself.  Everything in Dubai is available at your fingertips. Even though it's hot, the years spent there made me fall in love with the Arab world and get to know its culture even deeper. My second half, from Egypt is teaching me the Arabic language for my better integration. I was so happy to know that I was coming to Lebanon not only to discover the mix of cultures this country has to offer but also because I was back working with a company I love: The Hilton. I heard a lot about Lebanon, its different cultures and generous land. I was excited to come and discover the local products, specially the rich choice of vegetables all full of real natural taste.

What are your preferences to date?

  • The country you enjoyed for its social life: Ivory Coast
  • Where do you position Lebanon along the eight countries you visited from 1 to 10, 10 being the best: Lebanon is at 8/10. Lebanese cuisine is the best in the Middle East, positioned at number 1 and I would consider it my fourth favourite country around the world

What were you expecting to see in Lebanon?

I heard that Lebanese love to enjoy life and this is what I discovered the minute I landed here. The Lebanese cuisine which I had the chance to discover deeply in Dubai is the best of all in the Middle East region. I was excited to discover it at its origin. Arriving at the Hilton, a refreshing plan is on its way, tasting the real flavors and freshness of ingredients directly from the terroir. My motto is simplicity: It's a shame to use canned and synthetic products in a country like yours.

Hilton_Chef_Beirut_Lebanon_Paolo_Rocco_05 You've been here for a month now, what have you been up to?

I have been working on Venezia, It's going to be my little baby. Expect to see a new menu, newer ingredients, freshest products, and additional flavors... All maintaining the same prices. I have not done much tourism to tell you the truth. A short period where I was getting to know more about the hotel and its mechanism of work. A restaurant I visited is Babel, a place I really enjoyed. I also tried the Pizza at Margherita, which I liked. I am intrigued to learn more about Italian restaurants in Lebanon. This seems interesting… I have also been visiting many supermarkets, like the big Carrefour and get to know more about the products sold in this country. My next plan is to visit as many Lebanese restaurants as possible.

Have you ever thought of adding the Italian touch to the Lebanese cuisine?

I didn't think of that yet but will consider this idea. A Lebanese plate with an Italian touch... Should be interesting! In Italy, food is much more sophisticated than pizza and pasta. In the city I come from, Venice, there are more than 25 different ways of preparing fish alone. This similarity of sophistication and variation with the Lebanese cuisine makes me want to learn more and create more.

So expect to witness a new menu at Venezia in September where real and new Italian cuisine will be served, followed my many new addition to the food at the Hilton. Hilton_Chef_Beirut_Lebanon_Paolo_Rocco_10 After taking a picture with Paolo, we decided to meet again for a tour around Lebanon's best Lebanese restaurants. I personally would love to take Paolo to Al Halabi and Mhanna, two of the best Lebanese cuisines serving good Lebanese food while maintaining its authenticity.

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