(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)
Chef Marisa Iocco, Boston's only Italian-born female chef, is the new Executive Chef of Spiga Trattoria Italiana in Needham. Chef Iocco has worked at many excellent Italian restaurants, including Galleria Italiana, La Bettola, South End Galleria, Bricco, Mare and Umbria. Her presence at these places has brought her many, well-deserved culinary accolades. Based on my experiences at Spiga, Chef Iocco is continuing her fine culinary work and Spiga is a worthy foodie destination.
Now onto the Interview--
How important is culinary creativity to you, and why?
Creativity is very important to me, and the most fun part of my job, because even if I choose to make a traditional Italian dish, with the addition of my own creative touches, it becomes completely mine.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Could be anything: memories, scents, happiness, melancholy, rain, snow, sunset, love.
What's the process you use for creating a new dish?
Mostly, I think about flavors and colors, then I add a touch of passion.
Do you do it alone or with a staff?
Mainly alone and then I share my thoughts with my entire kitchen team.
How do you test new receipes?
In my kitchen either at home or in the restaurant, or sometimes in my head while sleeping or walking my dog.
What's the most difficult part of being creative?
I don't see any difficult part to being creative.The rush of adrenaline that I feel is absolutely addictive. The problem is when I don't feel creative enough.
Do you ever experience an inbility to be creative--like writer's block--and if so, how do you deal with that?
Yes I did and I do. I feel scared and lost, but it is a learning process, so I try to become friends with this feeling, and then I try to let it go.
Relate an unusual anecdote about a new dish you've created in the past.
In my first restaurant, it was late afternoon and we were cleaning up before going home. A man named John came by every day from a nearby homeless shelter, to help out and make some cash.
Sometimes we shared an improvised dinner together, depending on what I felt like eating, or maybe I'd try some new tricks for a special dish for the next day. So on this afternoon, I made a spicy fish stew with hand-cut pasta baked in a terracotta pot and served with garlic bruschetta. John and I sat down to taste this new dish. It was extremely hot and spicy but we didn't care because we were tired and hungry. After the first couple of bites, John stared into my eyes without a word, then all of the sudden he broke into tears, then laughing, and then crying again. Then he uttered a single word: magic !
It meant the world to me because I had touched this man's heart and warmed his soul, and he was happy to celebrate that moment with me, all because of my food. That day I learned that, for me, food is the best and most spontaneous way to communicate with the world.
A few weeks later, after another man named John came into the restaurant, and I brought him the same dish. When I went to his table to ask if he'd enjoyed it, he stood up, hugged me tight, and said "It was magic." It was Johnny Depp.