People 8 minutes 26 November 2021

The First Day We Got Our Stars: Daniele Sperindio of Art

Daniele Sperindio of newly minted MICHELIN-Starred Art talks about his story and the magic of Italy through his array of Italian dishes that go beyond pasta.

First Day I Got My Stars Michelin Guide Singapore 2021 Michelin Star

When one thinks of Italian food, it is inevitable that images of pasta, gnocchi, risotto, arancini, and osso bucco, make their way into one’s mind — and with good reason. Italian cuisine is often described with words that allude to comfort, and the food's simplicity in character, peppered with bold and hearty flavours, makes it a natural go-to for those craving a dish that warms the heart and soul.

For Italian executive chef Daniele Sperindio of newly minted MICHELIN-Starred restaurant Art, Italian food is his personal canvas for telling his story to the world. With a menu of dishes that goes beyond what one would typically expect from an Italian meal, Sperindio invites diners to experience his own personal take on his country's food.

“What is Italian cuisine? There are many ways to describe that. But if you are expecting a bowl of pasta, with all the usual red, white, and green colours, then that’s not what you’re going to get at Art,” says Sperindio. “We released the menu of Art during lockdown [because of the pandemic], and nobody could travel. So, I felt that the way we wanted guests to experience Art’s menu was as if we were all going on a small journey together; we told guests: we are all going to Italy tonight!”

Located above the National Gallery, the glass windows provide stunning views of the Marina Bay area.
Located above the National Gallery, the glass windows provide stunning views of the Marina Bay area.

According to our MICHELIN inspectors, what shouldn’t be missed at Art is Sperindio’s tasting menu, which takes diners on a gastronomic journey inspired by his childhood memories and culinary experiences from around the world. They say, “from the sea to the mountains, the exquisitely plated courses are rooted in tradition, but invigorated by creativity, finesse, and inventive food combinations that always satisfy.”

Bread and Poetry

Indeed, each of Sperindio’s plates has a story to tell. In a starting course called Pane e Poesia, which translates to “Bread and Poetry” in English, sourdough is served with olive oil from Puglia and a special pâté that echoes Sperindio’s beginnings. “For the Pane e Poesia course, we serve it with my reinterpretation of Vitel Toné,” he says. “Vitel Toné is one of the most rustic and classic dishes from Piedmont that I grew up eating. It's usually made with boiled veal that’s sliced and served cold. Then, it's covered with a sauce made with tuna, mayonnaise, and capers — it’s the most rustic thing you can think of, and to me, it tastes very nostalgic. I wanted to put it on the menu, but no matter how you look at a Vitel Toné, it does not look like the most appetising dish, so we made a pâté out of it instead. We finish it with a layer of black onion caviar and mustard seeds shaped into a flower.”

"Pane e Poesia" when translated to English means "Bread and Poetry". In this starting course, sourdough is served with olive oil from Puglia and a special pâté that echoes Sperindio’s beginnings.
"Pane e Poesia" when translated to English means "Bread and Poetry". In this starting course, sourdough is served with olive oil from Puglia and a special pâté that echoes Sperindio’s beginnings.

Sperindio explains the idea behind Pane e Poesia and recalls a fond childhood memory that he holds dear. "I remember that as a kid, the daily morning trip to the bakery was the highlight of the day. I would smell the soothing aroma of baked bread and caramelised pastries, and hear the chatter of everybody waiting in line for their turn. The baker would always give me a small slice of Focaccia Genovese to bear through the wait, and it was so good, it was like edible poetry; hence, Pane e Poesia."

"Aperitivo, 4 Amici al Bar" features an array of snacks inspired by an Italian pub and a version of a sandwich from Sperindio's early working years in Genoa.
"Aperitivo, 4 Amici al Bar" features an array of snacks inspired by an Italian pub and a version of a sandwich from Sperindio's early working years in Genoa.

In the second course called Aperitivo, 4 Amici al Bar, a snack of chips millefoglie, Taggiasca olives, and peanuts represents all the snacks one may find in an Italian pub, enjoyed in one bite. In the same course, a bread-less mortadella panino with pecorino cheesecake and edible chianti is a throwback to Sperindio’s earlier days working in Genoa. “There is this really special place in a port in Genoa, a hole in the wall sandwich shop called Gran Ristoro — extremely famous. They have four big bags of fresh bread and this massive selection of cold cuts and cheeses. When you get your sandwich, they also give you a small glass of chianti, around 50ml. So you eat your sandwich outside, drink your chianti, and then leave. I was around 17 during this time,” he explains.

A Journey from Italy to Paris, to Chicago

Sperindio says that for him, the last bite of toasted bread soaked up in leftover pasta sauce is arguably more satisfying than the pasta itself. Scarpetta, literally translating to “little shoe”, is an Italian tradition that alludes to sopping up all the sauce left on a plate with bread. The idea behind it is, just as a shoe that drags up what’s on the ground, the bread does the same thing with the leftover sauce. “Nothing is left behind!” Sperindio brightly says. This simple way of eating that’s rich in heritage and tradition is encapsulated in a dish at Art called Scarpetta: A Way of Living. Here, San Marzano tomatoes are cooked down to a thick sauce with aged parmesan cheese and served with a piece of Altamura bread. Digging into the sauce, one can find a lone piece of farfalle, to which Sperindio playfully says, “you know in every leftover pasta sauce there is that one piece of pasta lying around? This is my ode to that,” he says with a smile.

"From Paris, with Love" is Sperindio's ode to the city of Versailles.
"From Paris, with Love" is Sperindio's ode to the city of Versailles.

“One of the signature starters in Art’s menu is a dish of sea urchin custard with caviar, and below it is a beef liver pâté. I used to work in Paris around 17 years ago, and I have this memory of going to Versailles. I remember the city was glittering and golden, and I had this feeling of being so alive. That's the memory I am trying to recreate on this plate,” he explains. “Also, at that time, foie gras was all the hype, so I thought, ‘how can I put this memory of Versailles on a plate using my Italian heritage?’, so instead of using foie gras, I used beef liver, which is a very Italian ingredient. We call the course From Paris, With Love,” he says.

In a course called Christmas Dinner, Sperendio says that this dish focuses more on the feelings and sensations brought by warm and hearty food during the cold Christmas season. Culugriones (stuffed pasta) are served with truffles and girolles (mushrooms). The entire dish swims in a shallow broth of toasted corn, which, according to Sperindio, is not really Italian, but is more inspired by his days in Chicago, where he trained under Grant Achatz at three-MICHELIN-starred Alinea. “Actually, corn is not a huge thing from where I’m from in Italy, but experiencing it so much in Chicago brings back so many good memories, so I wanted to add a touch of that to this dish,” he says.

An Italian’s Tale

Despite Sperindio’s breadth and depth of experience working in the kitchens of 3 Star Alinea in Chicago and 2 Star Narisawa in Tokyo, he still chose to come back to his hometown of Genoa, where he became sous chef at former MICHELIN-starred and now-defunct Antica Osteria del Bai, before coming to Singapore.

With his much-coveted experience around the world, Sperindio remains grounded and focuses on championing Italian cuisine wherever his journey takes him. “I believe my memories, coupled with my experience, are the keys to unlocking these flavours and presenting them as dishes at Art,” he says. “I like to describe my cuisine as conversational cuisine because every dish is really born from a memory — a real memory. And as an Italian, coming together and enjoying good food is a big thing for us as it is for other cultures around the world. At Art, we are feeding using our emotions.”

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He explains, “a course that we have called Colazione nei Campi, which has pears, baby artichokes, and aged sand carrots, is drawn from a memory I have with my grandfather in the farm.” In a seasonal dessert called Grandparents (pictured on the left), Sperindio explains that it is an ode to old-fashioned desserts that are typical in Tuscany. They are, also, the go-to choices of the elderly. “We finish it with a quenelle of homemade espresso ice cream because it’s very typical for grandparents to have it as a dessert during family dinners. My nonno, at least, would always have it.

Coffee-flavoured ice cream in Italy is also fondly referred to as coppa del nonno, or Grandpa’s cup. I find it also cute and cheeky at the same time because it’s always the grandparents who let you have a small, secret taste of coffee when you are young and your parents aren't looking,” he laughs.

The final course is all about Sunday gatherings in Italy, of long afternoons with family and friends over a gift of cabaret di pasticcini.
The final course is all about Sunday gatherings in Italy, of long afternoons with family and friends over a gift of cabaret di pasticcini.

In the closing course called Sunday Gathering, an assortment of small sweets is served as Sperindio explains that it is a tradition for Italians to gather around the table every Sunday and bring freshly-baked pastries, breads, homemade sweets, and tarts from the neighbourhood forno (bakery).

Art - Chef Daniele Sperindio 1.jpg

On Writing a New Chapter

Apart from being a newly awarded MICHELIN-Starred restaurant chef, Sperindio has also recently started a new chapter in his life as a father. When asked what dish he would prepare that would encapsulate memories of his two-year-old daughter, Sperindio says it would most probably be a breakfast served as a dessert.

“She loves raisins, that’s her favourite snack,” he says fondly. “She likes cheese, and she’s passionate about breakfast. So, I’m thinking it might be a dessert that actually looks like breakfast. I believe it’s also a fun way of ending a meal with a new beginning [in the form of the first meal of the day]. Maybe I’ll put it in the next menu,” he cheerily says.

Despite the demands of being of MICHELIN-Starred restaurant chef and father, Sperindio shares that he always likes keeping himself busy. "I'm currently finishing my business degree," Sperindio says proudly. "I'm on my second year now!" A trained competition boxer who enjoys being active, Sperindio relishes Mondays where he gets to swim with his daughter and spend quality time with her. "Sometimes, when I come into the kitchen, my staff will sometimes point out that I have a strawberry sticker on my jacket!"

Shining the Light on Italian Cuisine

“I believe in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, where you are always improving yourself,” says Sperindio. “At Art, we try do better and be better each day and think of how we can push the envelope even further, not only in terms of the menu, but also in terms of the service and the small things that make a huge difference.”

“I believe that there is room in Singapore and in Asia, as a whole, for a higher Italian dining experience.”

“In Asia, there seems to be very few Italian restaurants that have made it to 2 Stars or 3 Stars. I am really not sure why, but I believe there is a way we can elevate the Italian dining experience in this part of the world, especially in Singapore. Yes, I do believe that Singapore is a city that deserves to have a very top Italian dining experience for itself, and I believe it is my mission to do that,” he says.

Tell us about your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide.
I was around 16 or 17, and to be honest, in the city of Genoa where I come from, there was only one MICHELIN-Starred restaurant at that time, Antica Osteria Del Bai, where I eventually worked as sous chef later on. Even though Genoa is one of the biggest cities in Italy, people didn't usually spend a lot of money eating out. Even my family, no one really knew that there was a dining aspect to Michelin, apart from the tires. Eventually, I got curious and ate at Antica Osteria Del Bai to see what a MICHELIN-Starred restaurant was all about. I remember having a basil pesto lasagna with some scampi on top, and the experience was definitely a first for me, with all the white-clothed tables and excellent waiters. I wondered since then what would it be like to be a MICHELIN-Starred restaurant chef.

And now, you are! How do you feel about being awarded a MICHELIN Star?
Recognised. Not because I need that outside validation to know that I'm doing what's right, but more of knowing that the guests at Art are happy. As a chef, it's a great feeling. It's a good moment — something I can cross off my bucket list! It was so real.

I remember the excitement started brewing when we received the invitation [from MICHELIN] — I was with my wife, and my head chef texted me that we received the letter. I recall telling my wife to not put the cart ahead of the horse because no information about getting a MICHELIN Star was given in that letter. But, overall, it was a good feeling to have finally received a MICHELIN Star, especially after seeing everyone work extra hard with a lot of passion and effort. It makes us feel that we are heading towards the right direction.

How did you celebrate?
It is unfortunate that it was during a time when restrictions limited our interactions. Ideally, we would have a big party, but we just celebrated in a very humble way — with a bottle of good wine. And then, we went out for lunch in pairs to celebrate; that's the best we could really do at that moment.

Who do you dedicate this milestone to?
My family, my team, and to all the people in my life. When I first moved to Paris to find work, I didn't have anything with me. My father just gave me €500, and that was that. The people in my life built the pavement for me so I could walk this path. Of course, my wife, and all the support she has given me throughout these years. I can also never ever forget my team who works so hard everyday.

What do you think having a MICHELIN Star means to you?
I believe that apart from the responsibility to do better and exceed expectations, there is also a social responsibility for me to inspire and help mentor a new generation of chefs to to take on the jacket and continue. Given the pandemic, I know a lot of young cooks who've given up on their dream.

How do you plan to inspire these young cooks? What would you want to tell them?
No matter what, you should always pursue your dreams because there is whenever there is a will, there is a way all the time.

I think F&B suffered greatly, more than anybody could have ever expected, but now, we are seeing hope. So, I will say that if they want to enter the industry, go for it. I believe that, especially in Singapore, there are a lot of restaurants looking for good people to work for them. Singapore, based on my experience these past years, is a resilient nation. We're going to rebuild slowly. COVID-19 taught us to be agile and to be able to pivot and adjust when needed. I strongly believe in that. We're going to make better things happen, and we're also smarter because of what we've learned from the pandemic as well. 

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All photos are from Art.

Art is located at the sixth floor of the National Gallery, 1 St Andrew’s Road, 178957.
Make a restaurant booking here, or follow the restaurant on Facebook and on Instagram for updates.

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