A handful of Italy, a dash of Asia, a pinch of England
and some Czech Republic and Russian for good measure. Carefully stir all together with a bunch experience and there you go: meet with the Executive Chef of Four Seasons, Andrea Accordi.
Tell us a bit about your story
My winding route to the Pearl of the Orient began in my hometown Nogara, a small city in the north of Italy, where I helped piece together pies at a local pizzeria to scrape up some money.
I was unsure of what to do after finishing secondary school, and thanks to my parents who encouraged me, I enrolled in cooking school.
I think they identified my passion even before I knew I had one!
After the school, my dad pulled some strings and got me a job at a Michelin-starred restaurant where I met Paolo Simeoni, my first mentor. And here is where all it started.
After graduation, I flew straight to England and took a position at the Regent Hotel London.
I was only 16 at that time and I will be always glad that I was brave enough to undertake that path.
Just few time later I met Anthony Genovese, who became my second mentor teaching me how to create, how to combine, how to mix flavours and how to respect the products at the same time.
He introduced me the Asian cuisine and its culture, spreading my view and opening the doors to Eastern World to me.
I realised I had to take a step further on my life, to think out of the box and challenge myself with something bigger: I took my CV and changed my age to get the position… I was 10 years older. One month later I was on a plane to Bangkok and started my promotion period that then turned out in a stable position.
There I met the third mentor of my life, Peter Hatt, who I worked with for 3 years in Phuket, Thailand. He gave the last touch to the shaping of my career, inspiring me while teaching me how to be always with my feet on the ground.
After returning to Europe with the intention of proving myself on the European culinary stage, I landed as Executive Chef at Villa La Vedetta, Florence, where I achieved my first Michelin star after just 7 months. After, I took an opportunity to go to Prague as Executive of Four Seasons Hotel where I achieved the first Michelin star in Eastern Europe. After my success in Prague, I was offered the opportunity to open the beautiful Four Seasons Lion’s Palace in St. Petersburg. It was always one of my dreams to return to Hong Kong. When the opportunity came two years ago, I eagerly took the offer to return to the city which so inspired me early in my career.
What was your first impression of Asia?
From Italy, I passed through to London and Eastern Europe and all of these places left me something that marked me for life. But nothing impressed me as Asia did.
As soon as I stepped foot here, I felt all different: the people, the food, the smell the vibes. Everything around me was pulsing, and at the age of 18 I was like as a sponge immerse in an Ocean made up of new things and I was absorbing everything was crossing my way.
You speak many languages, but food is universal; it is something that we all have in common.
Based on your international experience how would you state it?
Food doesn’t need to be spoken, it is a verbal stimulant that helps to create conversations without talking. The focus is on what you express with dish, reflecting your feelings and emotions.
I have been working in many countries where most of the staff doesn’t speak English but at the end of the day they know what I expect from them and what needs to be delivered.
Patience is the most important thing, and if you don’t find a way to interact …use your hands like Italians, it is the most efficient way!
What has been your professional success and biggest setback?
My success was my luck combined with hard work.
I have been lucky to meet so many great people during this journey, to share ideas with them and grow up together; I always felt I was in the right place at the right time.
The best was to learn how to be serious, to love what I do and have fun at the same time… never lose your smile!
My setback was to take tasks that I knew from the beginning I wouldn’t have had the time or the proper tools to carry out completely as I want to. With time, I learnt how to say no.
What are some of the challenges of being a Chef?
Being creative and energetic 100% of the time because what you feel is reflected on the dishes.
Even if you are under the weather, you cannot let your emotions drive you.
When you work in a very busy place, the challenge is to have time to think, to find your own time to relax and stretch your creativity and give consistency to what you do.
Time is necessary because a Chef can get inspirations in every moment: while sleeping, while working, while resting…he absorbs every single feeling that comes towards him.
Talking about food, you achieved the mastery of working with different ingredients and spices from all over the world, how your experience influenced you?
As I mentioned, every country left me something different, big or small, that I treasured carefully.
London left me the fun: I was young and wild, it was my first time abroad and I was hungry for life. Prague was a big step for my career and I achieved my first Michelin star in Eastern Europe.
Italy represents my roots and was the biggest success of my career giving me my first Michelin star. Thailand is a big part of my private life because of my wife, who is Thai, together with my early mentor who fuelled my passion. Hong Kong is where I challenge myself everyday now, where together with my team, we set our standards ever higher.
Since you know how to master a lot of different ingredients when you make a dish, how do you think about mixing the flavours? Which cuisine is dominant?
Learning to cook is a never-ending story, with so many cuisines and cultures to discover.
I always believe whatever you’re creating, it’s important to focus on product and to use the ingredients you have authentically.
Starting from the ingredient and keeping it seasonal, interpreting it accordingly to my personal experience. Then it comes to the way of cooking it, the combination of ingredients, the textures, the flavours and the emotions I want to transmit, balancing between different consistencies with maintaining the natural flavours.
What would you tell somebody aspiring to succeed in this business?
You don’t become a Chef watching TV and mobile phones, it is all about the experience. You have to be conscious about your roots and to know the basic of your countries in order to learn how to master other cuisines.
School is fundamental but then it is a lot about training and being curious, meeting people and take the most from them. Explore what is outside your comfort zone.