Chef Patrizia Di Benedetto of one-Michelin-starred modern Mediterranean restaurant Bye Bye Blues holds the accolade of being the first and only female chef to helm a Michelin-starred restaurant in Sicily over the past seven years.
However, the former accountant only got into the food business so that she could fulfil her sommelier husband’s dream of owning his own restaurant. The young couple bought over a little-known pub near Mondello beach and converted it into a popular pub.
She says with a wistful laugh: “We were very young and passionate when we opened the restaurant in 1991 — I was 27 and he was 25 — and we like jazz and blues, so we just decided to name our place ‘Bye Bye Blues’ as it means being happy in Italian and people can chase the blues away when they dine at our place.”
“In Sicily, every woman is a good chef. We learn how to cook from our grandmothers and mothers, who cook for family and friends,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “Meals in Sicilian families can last half a day with lots of eating, talking and drinking.”
Building on traditional dishes that she had learnt at home, she attended culinary courses, did starching stints in French and Italian restaurants in Italy, and worked in Valentino, an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles.
Her career transition caught her family by surprise. She recalls: “In the beginning, they were not happy as they thought that being a chef is not work for woman as I spent too many hours away from family.”
However, the cheerful chef persevered and transformed the bar into a full-fledged restaurant that centres on modern Mediterranean cuisine.
Popular dishes at Bye Bye Blues include squid ink cavatelli, tomato sorbet with burrata, Mazzara red prawn carpaccio, and watermelon jelly with jasmine flower curd and cheese.
These were some of the summertime dishes that she presented at a four-hands dinner at Italian restaurant Gattopardo Ristorante Di Mare with chef Lino Sauro as part of the World Gourmet Summit last month.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
It is a very famous guide in Italy and I knew about it through my husband. A long time ago, there were not many restaurants in Sicily, so we had to travel to the north of Italy to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants. They were such beautiful places with wine cellars and perfect plating.
How did you feel when Bye Bye Blues received one Michelin star in 2010?
I didn’t imagine that I would become a chef one day, let alone get a Michelin star. When the star arrived, I was very, very, very surprised and happy.
How did you celebrate that achievement?
My husband bought me a golden star necklace that I have kept till today.
You are first and only female chef to receive a Michelin star in Sicily. How was the journey been?
When I was growing up, working as a chef was not a popular career choice among women as it is hard work and takes away time from the family. But, lots of women chef have come to love this profession these days. You have to be physically strong and strong-willed as nobody will teach and help you to cook. You have to learn through looking and “stealing” information.
What advice do you have for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars?
You have to be determined and passionate about your job as it is a difficult job. You have to be prepared to work hard.