Beauty has a strong power! There’s no language like emotional and melodious Italian. La bellezza translates into beauty by any means.
Executive Chef of Bellezza Restaurant-Club talks to Annet Kulyagina
"An empty plate is the chef’s best reward"
Photos by Denis Manko
How long have you been a chef?
I think twelve years. I came from Italy where I worked for many restaurants. Four years ago, when I came to Moscow, I became a chef.
You are the youngest chef I have talked to and I think this question will be most appropriate: Why did you choose to work in the kitchen?
I was born into a family, which was not wealthy, in the small town of Ancona Marche. Like every young person, I had my pride and didn’t want to ask my parents for money. You know it is quite an advantage to grow up near the sea. I could combine school in winter, with working in summer. The money I earned I could spend and buy whatever I needed, without asking anybody. And I worked in the kitchen. And after a while started cooking myself.
According to the restaurant’s internet site, 34% of the dishes are your creations. Is that right?
Not exactly! Here we do the recipes of my native town. You know in Italy, in every region and in every town, there are different traditions of preparing food. I was given the chance to demonstrate some of the dishes from my town. I collected many recipes, and worked on them to adjust them to international standards. I found my own style, and now prepare them here. There are not so many chefs from my region in Moscow. I also act as a consultant for chefs from Bryansk, Saint-Petersburg and Yuzhno- sakhalinsk.
Do your guests like what you do?
I don’t know about all the guests, but I hope so, yes. You see, the best reward for a chef is an empty plate. If the dish stays untouched, it says a lot more than words. I like critics and I try to change recipes for the people. I like when there are a lot of guests.
Is there any other prize you would like to get as a chef?
I have never thought about that. I don’t know if I would like to get anything except happy guests. I don’t even know the type of a chef I am. There is a theory that there are two types of chefs. I was told that when I first came to the culinary school. My professor used to tell us that chefs are divided into two categories: the first one is the very thin, very professional and knows and does everything according to the book; the other one is fattish, enthusiastic and homey. Sometimes I feel like making everything as in the book, but most of the time I am just fanatically enthusiastic to invent and try out.
Where do you get inspiration for your experiments?
Well it all comes from the style. I like different styles. For example I like sushi. Not cooking it, but the idea of rolling food up and serving it the way they do. I make notes and use the tricks sometimes. I like making fresh tuna, for example. I have one recipe from my grandmother. It was only in our family; I took it and brought it to my kitchen.
Did you find any tricks in Russian cuisine?
Ah, no, not yet. I haven’t had much time to try something Russian. I haven’t even seen Red Square yet. When my mother calls me and asks about Moscow, I usually answer that I have my own Moscow and it is called Bellezza. I work here and know every corner. I just want to make the work perfect for the restaurant, to excite the guests up to the same level as myself. Maybe in time, I will have a chance to see Moscow.
Beauty and Loveliness
«La bellezza salverà il mondo» Feodor Dostoevsky
Bellezza is a lovely restaurant if located below ground on Ulitsa Krasnaya Presnaya near the 1905 Goda metro station, next to Dolls. Jan Heere, John Ortega and I had a little trouble fi nding the entrance, but once we did we descended into an ornate, comfortable club and were warmly greeted by several staff members. We were shown through Bellezza’s five separate dining areas, and fi nally, the Versace Empire VIP dining room, concealed behind a curtain at the far end of the restaurant. This room has been decked out with Versace creations from fl oor to ceiling, tableware to wall coverings. The few large tables in each dining room are set with expansive, carved wood, heavily padded armchairs. For accent lighting, the designers have substituted ornate draped and illuminated “windows” to make up for the lack of the real thing. Unfortunately, the big video screens that are present throughout and fi lled continuously with music videos mar Bellezza’s sumptuous design. Thankfully, the music was kept to background noise levels, but the effect is like putting mirror sunglasses on a statue of the Madonna. Despite the modern afterthoughts, Bellezza is the place to go if you want to pay oligarch prices without the crowds or to get away for a romantic dinner or discreet business meeting.
The menu at Bellezza, prepared by Chef Lorenzo Strappato, is Mediterranean/ Italian. Chef Strappato was the subject of Passport’s chef interview in the August issue. Bellezza’s (very) young sommelier, Svetlana Lapshina, a recent graduate of Moscow’s Enotria School, went over the broad wine list with John. He was happy to fi nd a couple of Australian Shiraz on the wine list, including the Wild Duck Creek Spring Flat Shiraz (6200r) imported by Australian PGA pro and wine expert Grant Dodd. Grant will be bringing several top Australian winemakers to Moscow in October and will guide the wine tasting for the November issue. The Spring Flat Shiraz is a dense, fruit-packed, chocolaty wine, an example of just how good Australian winemakers are with this grape.
We ordered an assorted cheese platter, which consisted of Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Pecorino, and Tallagio, served with honey and quartered fresh pears. I opened dinner with Chestnut Chowder (300r), a very tasty, creamy, chestnut color soup with soft and tender chestnut pieces, followed by the House Salad ‘Contadina’ (330r). This salad consisted of fresh, full arugula leaves, quartered pears, grapes, Parmesan, and pine nuts with slices of tender grilled duck breast.
Jan Heere ordered the Beef Tartar (370r), but found it too spicy and left it unfi nished. He followed this with the New Lamb Kare from Chef Lorenzo (1250r); this stack of tender young lamb chops left him much more satisfied. John ordered Tagliatelle with Seafood (1000r) and Medallions of Black Angus by Rome Emperor Neron Royal (1600r). He declared the Medallions exquisite, and passed around a taste to the rest of us at the table; very welcome after seeing the meat and its presentation. I decided on pasta for the main course – Fusilli Carbonara with Asparagus (450r), rich and creamy with thinly sliced lengths of very fresh asparagus. At our review meals we seldom get as far as dessert, but Bellezza became an exception when we ordered Homemade Ice Cream ‘Semifreddo’ of Tropical Fruits (350r) topped of with several rounds of Lorenzo’s home prepared Lemoncello.
In conclusion, Bellezza’s design is exquisite, the food excellent, but these attributes are sharply contrasted by the continuous video entertainment hovering over your head.
Belleza’s prices are on par with other top end restaurants in Moscow, but it appears to be less well trafficked than others, providing quieter surroundings for a relaxing meal without the worry of seeing and being seen.