“Typically, Italian food is not complicated, with only a few ingredients needed for a dish. We want to savour each true, authentic flavour, so that every ingredient must be of the highest quality. For me, as a chef, ingredients are the heart, the everything, in cooking.”
Born and raised in Pisa, Tuscany, Chef Francesco Lenzi is the Chef-Patron, or owner and head chef, of two restaurants in central Bangkok, both named in MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2020. Lenzi Tuscan Kitchen was the first, followed by Nonna Nella by Lenzi. These Italian eateries each received a MICHELIN Plate, guaranteeing good food. Chef Francesco sat down with MICHELIN Guide to discuss the essence of cooking.
The passionate chef shares about flavour profiles and the delicious world of Italian cuisine. Here we discuss the inspiring and amazing ingredients that this Italian chef from Pisa wants everyone to try, at least once.
“For me, as a chef, ingredients are the heart, the everything, in cooking.”
Chef’s most favourite ingredient
It’s not just about the olive oil. In the endless realm of Italian culisine, there are so many excellent ingredients. “I’m from the beautiful Tuscany, not far from the sea. I love the sea and spending time there, so I especially love the ingredients from the ocean. Gambero rosso, red prawns from Mazara del Vallo in Sicily, is a treasured favourite of mine. I’ve known about them for a while, but I didn’t fully appreciate how wonderful they are until I visited there last year and tasted prawns that were freshly caught the same morning. And it blew my mind.
“These prawns are exceptional, because you can do anything with them. You can eat them fresh; they don’t need seasoning. The flesh is naturally sweet, like the ocean. You can chop them into little pieces and season for a fresh shrimp tartare. This is a high quality ingredient,” explains Chef Francesco, his eyes beaming with delight.
“Italian fishermen catch these prawns in waters 500 metres deep in very cold temperatures. You must eat them within two days of being caught to taste the full freshness from the sea. Also, I use the heads in making mayonnaise. The head is the most flavourful part of the prawn, and I serve this mayonnaise paired with green pea purée and dried olives crushed into a powder,” as he explains, he shows us the tempting item on the menu. “I enjoy using these prawns in pasta as well, especially served with a classic tomato sauce.”
Chef’s signature dish
“My pasta is a very delicious and popular favourite in Bangkok because I only use artisanal pasta. I do not use commercially made pasta because it doesn’t meet the quality I look for. And when I make the sauce, I always start with extra virgin olive oil and shrimp heads. I don’t cook them too long; otherwise, it dries out."
“I smash the prawn heads so that the oils and flavours seep into the sauce even better. Then I add garlic, white wine, and tomato sauce. The most important part is to not add the prawns immediately to the heat. Instead, I wait until almost finished so that the prawns are cooked perfectly and not dried and hard. Because I want the flesh to be soft and tender, so just 20 to 30 seconds are enough. Or else they will be overcooked and not sweet. After that, I add some extra virgin olive oil at the end to enhance the flavours. This is how I cook.
“Another pasta dish I enjoy is pasta in scallop sauce. I make it in a similar way, except with scallops. And I finish the dish off with red prawn tartare and caviar. I like this part of the dish the most because the scallops and prawns are fragrant and sweet, with the added caviar pop in the mouth to enrich the flavours. Another secret is using good stock. After adding the prepared pasta to the finished sauce, I add a splash of fish stock. This is what sets my pasta apart -- it may seem simple, but we pay attention to every step, every detail, and use only the finest ingredients.”
Chef Francesco also shares that this emphasis on quality ingredients and on the care and attention in cooking is how he trains his teams. Every dish must be inspected and tasted for flavour and quality before serving. So, while many restaurants are still feeling the impact of COVID-19, maybe this is why the chef’s restaurants are kept busy with Bangkok’s foodies every night.