by Dr. Iain Corness
do you call an Italian, born in Sicily, who lived in Switzerland since he
was three, rides a big motorcycle, restores furniture and collects black
and white photographic art? You could try Luca Messina for a start!
Luca is the visiting Italian chef who is working at
Bruno’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, bringing a new range of Italian dishes,
already given the highest recommendation by the Pattaya Mail’s
food critic, Miss Terry Diner. I was fortunate enough to interview Luca
over lunch, which included his salmon stored overnight in a special
dressing, to make the taste that little bit different, and his ravioli
with truffle mushrooms, which were enough for me to agree wholeheartedly
with our food writer.
Luca is a young man, only 31, but he is definitely a
man on the move. When Bruno’s owner Fredi Schaub was looking for a
visiting chef to spearhead the Italian promotion for August this year, he
contacted a great friend of his in Zurich, Hans Rudisuhli of the Hotel
Senator, who suggested a young chef who had already been working in the
kitchen of the Michelin two star Restaurant Panoramica in Asti in Italy.
This was Luca.
Fredi flew to Zurich to interview him and taste his
food, and ended up agreeing with Hans Rudisuhli’s estimation of the
young man’s talents and brought him out to Pattaya for August.
Luca was born in Sicily, where his father was a wine
merchant, but they moved to Zurich when Luca was only three years old. His
language is Swiss-Deutsche, which means that he can communicate very well
with Fredi, but Luca’s German comes in a huge flurry of words, with much
Italian style hand waving and expressiveness. “He’s Italian,” said
Fredi, “You can’t breed it out of them in a 100 years!” If they’re
all like Luca, then Fredi’s certainly right.
By the time Luca was 15 years old he knew he wanted to
work in a restaurant. His grandfather used to sell vegetables to the
restaurants in town, and Luca would help, but it was the kitchens, not the
commerce, that attracted him.
He began his three year apprenticeship in Zurich, and
by the time he was 19 years old he had his diploma and began the long
climb from Commi-chef to where he is today. His rise has been almost
meteoric, and I asked Luca was this just luck, being in the right place at
the right time, or did he catch somebody’s eye, or was there something
else? Without any sign of being boastful or bashful, he said confidently,
“By the time I was 23 I knew I was better than the others.” This
prompted my next question, which was how did he know he was ‘better’?
“I could see the others were slower, and I started to get requests from
the executive chef to ‘make me this’ or ‘make me that’ and then he
began asking me to make new creations, which ended up on the menu.”
Again all this was said without any hint of self aggrandizement, but just
delivered in a ‘matter-of-fact’ way.
For a chef to create new dishes, I presumed this had to
be an art all in itself, and asking Luca how he did it, reinforced that
impression. With much hand-waving he described that this is not something
that could be done on demand, but was something where he had to wait until
the right ‘creative moment’. These ‘moments’ can sometimes only
last one hour, so he has to make as much use of them as he can. He rather
reminded me of a painter describing waiting for inspiration. Luca’s
inspiration often comes just from looking at new products and wondering
how he can mix their characters with others. “You just keep changing
until you get it right,” said Luca.
But what about some new dish that he might have spent
much time and emotional energy over, to find that it does not have such an
appeal to the diners? “You can be proud of a new dish and find you are
disappointed, but you have to go with the customer’s taste,” said the
voice of experience.
Since cooking is for Luca very much an ‘art form’,
I wondered just how difficult it was for him to come to Thailand and then
work in Bruno’s kitchen, an environment set up to suit chef Fredi. “It
is not difficult to work in another kitchen. In three days you have it
My next question was still on the theme of working in
different kitchens, but more directed to the problems of strange (or
uncommon) market items or even their scarcity working in another country.
Again, the young chef had come well prepared. “You just ask what is
there or not, or whether the ingredients are too expensive. I came here
with boxes of truffle mushrooms, because they are plentiful in Europe.”
So by this time in the interview I knew that Luca was
an artist in the kitchen, and I wondered if this artistic feeling spread
to other areas. It certainly does, with his collecting of artistic nudes,
done in the classic black and white photographic medium, and another
spare-time pursuit, which is antique furniture restoration and interior
They all fit very nicely with the image of the artistic
creative chef, but his other hobby does not fit as well. He has a 989 cc
Ducati big bike, on which he goes touring, and once a year goes for an
instructional weekend at a race circuit, learning to get his knee down
like his hero (every Italian’s hero) Valentino Rossi, the current king
on two wheels. “He’s crazy,” said Luca, shaking his head.
His dream is to one day open his own restaurant and small hotel. “But
it is impossible to do this on my own. I’d need a partner,” said Luca.
Anyone got any spare cash lying around? You would be hard pressed to find
a better chef!