Meet the chef: Giuseppe Vivacqua, Can Domingo

Ibiza fine dining restaurant Can Domingo is the culmination of a life lived steeped in good food and good company. Giuseppe Vivacqua was born in the northern Italian city of Turin but his parents hail from the southern province of Calabria. Beppe – as his friends call him – combines the two distinct flavours of north and south Italy in a seamless and ever evolving menu.

Beppe’s life revolves around food. His spare time is spent lovingly caring for the Can Domingo vegetable garden where he finds an endless font of inspiration growing up from the earth. When he is not in the kitchen or the garden he is walking in the forests of Ibiza, reading from his ever-growing library of cookbooks and thinking, always, about food. Beppe stopped cooking for a moment to talk to White Ibiza about, well, about food of course!

Tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in my mother’s the kitchen, watching her cook and helping her whenever I could. Later an old friend asked me to join him in his restaurant as an assistant chef. From there my passion was ignited and I travelled around Italy becoming an unpaid apprentice at some of the country’s finest restaurants. Each restaurant had its own code and it was in their kitchens I picked up many useful skills. When I wasn’t working I was reading, watching documentaries about chefs and experimenting. This coming winter I hope to do another ‘stage’ at a vegetarian restaurant, an area that has become increasingly interesting to me. To me, you can never stop discovering.

What led you to work at Can Domingo?
I was working for six years at Macao Cafe in Santa Gertrudis and had been thinking about opening my own place for a long time. I was looking at small places, talking to people, and I met [Can Domingo co-owner] Andrea, so we were looking together. Then we found Can Domingo. It was a bit bigger than we had originally thought of doing. We met Alessandro, who was really new to the island and then we went to see the place together, we got to know each other and then it happened. And we get on really well. We have formed a really great team.

How do you describe your style in the kitchen?
I like to be involved in everything. There are chefs who expect a lot but I’m pretty normal. I like to create a relaxed ambience in the kitchen, but with concentration and passion. It’s a hard job, if someone has something going on it comes out in the food, there has to be a touch of hospitality, that people feel good to be there, to cook with me. There has to be that tenderness and love so the food is quality. Everyone is at the same level at Can Domingo – the front of house hosts, chefs, everyone feels comfortable and looked after. Every one who works for us is fantastic.

And your style of cuisine?
I try never to use out of season produce. My family was from the country, they lived seasonally even in the city. Seasonal produce has the best flavours and is the best for your health. I always try my best to use ingredients that come from as close to us as possible, so that they are fresh and have not been transported too far. We try to import very few things, some things we have to get from Italy but everything else comes from the island wherever possible. In my dishes, I like the flavours to be delicate, to stand alone as well as mix well with the others. Nothing too complicated, so that the freshness is what makes the flavour.

What inspires the creation of new dishes?
Here in Ibiza, every Italian restaurant serves the same thing. It’s what people think of as the classics but which are in fact not always. We make food a little differently. The new ideas come in the moment, from a trip away, from the ingredients in the garden, a film I’ve seen or a book I’ve read, a walk I’ve taken smelling the forest. The forest is full of wild plants; the smell can inspire a new dish in my mind. The scents of Ibiza inspire me a lot. I think the memory part of the brain, the hippocampus, is used more by cooks, we smell something, a spice a herb a flower and we go back to a memory from a long time ago. And boom,  out of that comes the idea, from the memory comes the dish.

Can you give us an example?
There is an almond tree in the restaurant garden, it’s not beautiful, it’s twisted and old, but it’s my favourite. The vegetable garden is under it, I was thinking about it, it gives shade, protects the plants and vegetables. I began to think about what this tree gives to the restaurant through this protection and that is how the dish I call Bajo el Almendro (Under The Almond Tree) came to my mind. I play in the garden, there is a story in the dish, I think about the colours, the smells, the textures. The orange tree that I planted three years ago is also in that dish. Every plant that is protected by the almond tree is in the dish.

What is your signature/star dish?
Well, at the moment my personal favourite is Bajo El Almendro. It’s a puree of dry broad bean, fresh green beans and broad beans, sautéed fresh onions, roasted orange sauce, fresh chard and almond milk foam. But it will change of course, when the season changes, when my ideas change, my signature will change. I try not to identify myself with one plate so that I don’t tire of any one dish.

What are your favourite restaurants in Ibiza?
This is the hardest question to answer. I’ve been here 14 years. At the moment, I have to say, La Paloma Cafe is a favourite. And O’pazo. The restaurant is not in such a great location but the food is excellent. It’s seafood, from Galicia, all the classic dishes. When I want seafood like oysters, sea truffles, lobster, percebes, I go there.

What do you like most about living in Ibiza?
It’s tranquil. Not so much traffic. I can leave my car unlocked. I love the forest, the natural beauty, the countryside. It’s a simple life. I enjoy mostly the simplicity of daily life. People aren’t so stressed out. I spent six months of the winter in a few cities, where there are too many people, too much anger, too many cars. Here people are much more relaxed.

Click here to read more about Can Domingo on White Ibiza