Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Culinary Creativity: Chef Vittorio Ettore

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

Chef Vittorio Ettore is the chef/owner of Bistro 5, an excellent Italian restaurant in Medford. The restaurant is ten years old, having opened in 1999. Chef Ettore is part Italian and part Venezuelan and has spent a number of years in both countries. His restaurant uses fresh, local ingredients and the menu changes frequently, reflecting the availability of those ingredients.

I most recently had an exceptional Heirloom Tomato dinner there, and all of my previous meals there have been quite delicious. I believe Chef Ettore is very creative and highly recommend you check out Bistro 5.

Now onto the Interview--

How important is culinary creativity to you?
It is the driving force that motivates me every day, it is also fun to keep my customers wondering what's up next.

Why is it important?
It keeps everyone in the kitchen involved and always alert because the dishes are constantly evolving.

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity?
Traveling, being exposed to different cultures and their appreciation for food What makes those matters so inspiring? When I am traveling I am not running a business, I am relaxed, enjoying the surroundings and always observing anything edible.

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
I am always in search of ingredients, once I find something that interests me I go at it! Fish markets, farmer's markets, specialty distributors, etc.

What is your process for creating a new recipe or dish?
First, find an idea that needs a twist (prosciutto & melon). Second, understand what makes it so special (such as "sweet & salty"). Third, understand the textures and then change everything. That can lead to a dish like "Prosciutto and melon risotto." You cook the rice with watermelon juice instead of chicken stock and at the end add diced cantaloupe and honeydew. Then, plate and top off with a very thin slice of prosciutto.

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
When I find that idea/concept I throw it out there to the staff, I take their input maybe use it maybe not... we never know.

How do you test new recipes/dishes?
The customer. Once I like a new dish, I have it as special. Then, I go in the dining room collecting feedback from the customers.

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
Time. There is never enough time to sit down and think and test the food.

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
Unfortunately all the time, and it has to do with all the other stress that is attached to owning a restaurant. When possible I set aside time and stay at home, no cell, no internet, a few books, some menus from Italy and start throwing ideas on paper.

Can you relate to me an interesting or unusual anecdote concerning the creation of a new dish/recipe?
I was shopping for dishware and the next thing I knew, someone asked me if I was ok because I was staring at one dish for so long. All sorts of foods were going through my head that would fit perfectly in that dish. The next day I made a lobster cappuccino, savory biscotti, truffled foam, and porcini powder.

Unlike some of the prior chefs I have interviewed, Vittorio does not keep a notebook of ideas, though he stated he probably should.

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