When it comes to food in Formentera, no one knows better than Chezz Gerdi executive chef Andrea Alimenti. The multiple Michelin starred maestro made the move to the Balearics after a high profile career in Italy, including books, television programs, teaching and consulting in restaurants around the globe. With a name like Alimenti (which translates to food in French!) it seems like he was predestined for a culinary food… we caught up with the busy chef to find out more.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Well, I’m part Scottish so I had to learn to cook – the Scottish kitchen is not the best, unless you like haggis and black pudding! But actually, I started really young, when I was 13, studying and cooking. Originally I wanted to be a comic book designer, but my mum didn’t think it would be a good idea so I went off to culinary school in Florence. I understood that that this type of work could take me around the world and give me a lot of opportunities, so I worked hard and focused on my future.
Tell us a bit about your history in the kitchen?
After my studies, I did my military service then left for the USA to on the Princess cruise ships. It was a nice experience, and taught me a lot about working with large numbers. When I came back, I decided to go back to Florence and rebuild my personal career. I had a lot of new ideas, and began working in very good restaurants and moving up from there. I was very young, just 20 when I got my first Michelin star. After that, I got another one… and then at age 30 I left Florence to open my restaurant with some partners (the renowned Aquamatta in Capolona) and had that for 15 years… which also received a Michelin star! That gave me the opportunity to do a lot of things, television, books, go around the world teaching cooking courses and consulting for global brands like Starwood.
So what led you to Formentera?
During the peak of my career, I had a serious health problem which made me decide to slow down a little. I wanted to spend more time with my family and find a place where I could work in the summer and have time off in the winter… well, that was the idea! But I like to work and so last year I started with this group, working with one restaurant and this year I am executive chef of the whole company, which includes two hotels (including Es Ram) and two restaurants, Chezz Gerdi Tapas and Chezz Gerdi Chiringuito. I spend more time in the chiringuito as it needs a lot of attention, it’s very special.
How do you describe the style of food at Chezz Gerdi Chiringuito?
We don’t do a menu that is overly creative – it’s very simple actually but it’s more or less based on the high quality of the food. We have a lot of different types of clientele, from families to young holidaymakers from all around the world, so you have to offer a lot of variety, like a really good pizza, a special grill…we have three different kitchens outside, a main one inside plus a grill so that each style of food is made in the best possible way.
And Chezz Gerdi Tapas?
The tapas concept came from an idea to offer a choice of good quality food at low process and to keep it simple. The Spanish style of tapas allows you to try a lot of different items, and here you can taste a lot at a very good price. We choose our cured Spanish ham especially, import the best cheeses and always make sure it’s the very best, and freshest cuisine.
What is Formentera like in terms of using local and seasonal produce?
There’s not a lot here – honey, onions and tomatoes and maybe some fresh fish but there’s not much in the sea here either so we have to arrange special deals with the markets in Barcelona and Madrid. We have a lot of providers in Italy too, like for olive oil, cheese and fish and luckily, one of the partners in the restaurant is actually a meat broker, so we have specialty beef from Nebraska flown in, plus Waygu and Kobe beef. The quality is second to none.
How do you describe your own style in the kitchen?
I try to exude positivity in the kitchen, and to give all the guys I work (13 in the kitchen and 43 in total) with the same attitude. I like working, it’s part of my life now so I try to show them this. If they want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time outside, they have to work harder and pay more attention at work so they don’t waste time.
What is your signature dish?
I don’t really have one star dish, as the menu is so varied. We’re known as a seafood restaurant, and people love the frittura of fried squid, shrimp and little fish served in a simple basket. But we also make fresh pastas on site, amazing pizzas from a wood fired oven and even make our own ice cream. I have to say, I am probably most known for my desserts – this is where I get to be really creative.
What’s your own favourite food?
I like good food! I don’t like saying Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese for example… everything is good if it’s made well and using the proper methods… When I was younger, I used to love fish and chips… and now that’s a recipe I have here in the restaurant!
Do you get the chance in summer to experience other restaurants in Formentera?
I don’t go out often, but when I do I like to feel an emotion with the food and the ambience, maybe because of this attitude it gets a bit more difficult to find a surprise these days. I like to believe other people like to work as I do to give the best to their customers. I like Can Toni, they have a very modern way of presenting typical Spanish kitchen, it’s outstanding on the island… and then of course there’s Juan y Andrea, famous for the lobsters.
What do you like the most about living in Formentera?
I like that it changes a lot during the year, it can be completely deserted with nothing but it’s still so beautiful. I travel between November and February, because otherwise it starts to feel a little too small, and then people start to arrive around Easter and it starts to change again…