Vol. XIII No. 26
Friday July 1 - July 7, 2005

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Local Personalities

Maurizio Menconi - “consuming” passions ruling his life

by Dr. Iain Corness

Chefs, as a group, tend to be absorbed in their careers, though many find that when they get to the accepted “top” of their culinary quest, their work has become administrative, rather than creative. This will not happen with The Bay Restaurant’s passionate new Italian chef at the Dusit Resort, Maurizio Menconi. For Maurizio, there is only one way to cook, the ‘correct’ way, and that’s the way he does things. Did you know that Café de Paris butter has 36 ingredients? “There’s one recipe with 28 ingredients, but I like the one with 36. It’s richer,” says Maurizio.

He comes from a tiny village in Lucca province in Tuscany, where he was the youngest of four sons born to a photojournalist and his wife. His mother was a “homely” cook, but the culinary side comes from his father. As a journalist he would travel all over Italy and come home with different foods, ingredients and cheeses. These his father would cook.

Being the youngest, by the time he was approaching the end of his basic schooling, his elder brothers were already in the workforce. The family had an American bar and one brother worked as a barman, and another as a waiter. The young boy also used to help in the bar’s ‘cold kitchen’ opening oysters. “Without salary - when you are working for the family,” said Maurizio.

This experience was enough for him to realize that he did not want to pour drinks or carry plates all his life, so he was enrolled at a hospitality college in the area where he undertook a three year cooking course, and then backed up for another two years for the advanced course.

By this stage he was already showing that he had an enquiring mind, and he decided to go to France to learn more about those wonderful ingredients called truffles and ‘foie gras’. That took him to Perigord where he studied everything including the feeding of the ducks and how to make the liver into foie gras and confit. “I wanted to know everything on which cooking is based.”

The family called him back to Italy and he joined a restaurant in Florence, starting as we all did, at the bottom. From there he moved on to a well-known hotel that used to host the Miss Italy pageant each year. It was here that he began to understand that he liked working directly with the customers, so he became the chef at the tables, doing all the theatrical flamb้s that guests love.

While he had obviously inherited his father’s love of cooking, he may also have inherited some of his wanderlust as well. When he heard that a friend was going to Germany, Maurizio asked him to let him know if it was worthwhile his going as well. He did not have to wait long, as the call came in two weeks, “Come, come! It’s good!”

This was all he needed and he joined a small (36 seat) restaurant in Berlin. This restaurant had an excellent reputation and one of its regular customers was the F1 world champion Michael Schumacher, who apparently enjoys a good steak. Maurizio also enjoyed getting his autograph!

Maurizio’s reputation also grew and another chef asked him to join him to open a new Italian restaurant. Rising to the challenge, he left Michael Schumacher’s steak and started the new venture, which was to become judged as one of the 10 best Italian restaurants in Germany.

Whilst this was a great honour, there was a problem for Maurizio. “I didn’t know where to go next. The owner was also a chef, so I couldn’t go up.” However, the concept of ‘fusion cuisine’ was emerging and Maurizio, with his enquiring mind, decided that he should come to Thailand to learn how to understand Thai herbs and spices. He could have just asked at any Thai restaurant in Europe, but that is not Maurizio’s way. He arrived in Bangkok and enrolled in a Thai cooking school. “It was all in Thai, but I just noted what they were doing, so I learned more about using items such as ginger, bay leaf and lemongrass.”

Again the thirst for knowledge about food and the ingredients was uppermost and Maurizio even went to the University of Truffles in San Miniato. There he learned the differences between France, where they use truffle pigs to root out the delicacy, and Italy, where they use specially trained dogs. “The pigs are more intelligent, but you have to retrain them every year, and then they get too big!” The dilemmas of the truffle farmer!

The travel bug then took him to Australia where he worked in a large restaurant where he learned accounting and administration, as well as banqueting. He also found that there was one basic concept that he realized he believed in implicitly. “When you go for quantity, you can’t get the top quality.” And it was quality that Maurizio believed in.

He returned to Germany, working in a small 26 seat restaurant and then was invited to join a very famous restaurant in Italy, owned by the chef who had invented carpaccio. He enjoyed working under this great chef who taught Maurizio that he had to satisfy everybody’s taste buds.

However, after one year, he noticed that the old chef was becoming forgetful and it was again time for Maurizio to move on, but he needed a holiday first, so he came to Thailand. He also found that he loved Thailand and took a position with a four star hotel in Bangkok for 18 months, but again wanting to move upwards, then came to the Dusit Resort in Pattaya, this being a five star property.

Here he continues to enjoy his profession, getting immense satisfaction from as he says, “Converting raw ingredients into something perfectly united, for the eye and the mouth.” You can see if he is successful at The Bay Restaurant in the Dusit!

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