Interview: Culinary Pros Talk Food, Work, and Passion
Contrary to popular belief, familiarity with fine food and drink is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Rather, it often comes from education, study, and experience.
One does not simply inherit taste and refinement. Perhaps more importantly, taste and refinement are not limited to those who come from a place of privilege.
This is especially true today when resources for learning more about the culinary arts are more plentiful than ever.
And we hope that this interview will inspire the culinary-curious to further explore their desire to appreciate and even create magnificent food and drink.
The Idea Trader spoke with Alexandre Cuvillier and Claudia Barrovecchio in Washington D.C. recently.
Cuvillier is a sommelier originally from France and Barrovecchio is a pastry chef originally from Italy.
Both Cuvillier and Barrovecchio currently work with Fiola D.C., which is a Fabio Trabocchi restaurant that has been recognized time and again for its excellence and sense of innovation.
Our discussion spans their personal experiences with the culinary arts as well as their opinions on broader trends within the restaurant industry.
We hope you enjoy.
How important is it for the employees of a restaurant to communicate with each other?
Cuvillier: Communication between employees is the key to success. It is essential for a restaurant to work well. This communication plays a major role as it creates bonds between employees, gathering them around the sole purpose of satisfying clients.
Barrovecchio: Good communication is a big challenge in every kitchen. It’s the key component that keeps the kitchen running smoothly. Effective communication goes beyond just listening. In fact, most of the time everything is about understanding and being understood. On so many occasions I hear young cooks or students responding with “Yes Chef!” to whatever the chef says, especially when they are feeling the pressure. They typically don’t understand what the Chef wanted. It’s a reflex that gets in the way of good communication.
What is your greatest dream as a culinary professional?
Barrovecchio: To succeed at my job, be proud of my achievements, inspire the people I work with, and reach my goals.
Cuvillier: My greatest dream would be to open my own place by the seashore, a sort of wine bar where I would serve wine produced by winegrowers I’ve come to appreciate.
What do you think is your greatest asset as a culinary professional?
Cuvillier: I think my greatest strength is my curiosity. I am always eager to learn new things, to discover new wine-growers, to talk with clients and to share my passion.
Barrovecchio: My greatest asset is the love I have for this job. Being passionate and extremely committed has always been my strength and has helped me a lot in my career.
How can amateur cooks and wine lovers improve their abilities in these areas?
Barrovecchio: In terms of the kitchen, I think cooking classes can be a fun way to learn, improve, and challenge your abilities. Books are also very important and great for the theoretical aspect of the job. As far as wine lovers, I find wine lessons, tastings, and pairings very interesting and pleasant.
Cuvillier: I think they can improve their skills by reading books published on both subjects: wine and cooking. As far as the former is concerned, it is also possible to take part in a wine group where wine and food pairings are discussed.
Do you think that cuisine and winemaking can be considered an art form?
Cuvillier: I do believe that cooking can be considered an art, as much as painting or music. When cooking, one wants to deliver a message, to share a passion. Not everyone agrees on all of these subjects. As for cooking, there is the famous Michelin guide which ranks the best world restaurants. My former chef Guy Savoy used to say that “cooking is the art of instantaneously transforming products into joy.”
Winemaking is also a form of art in the way that it transforms grapes into wine and also because a high knowledge of the terroir and climate are needed to make high-quality wine. One has to know when to intervene and one has to be respectful of the environment.
Barrovecchio: I do think that cooking can be considered a form of art, a means for expressing feelings. Eating good food is an experience, is a trip, is a bunch of emotions. Food is a unique type of art as it plays with all of your senses.
We'd like to hear about one of your favorite culinary experiences.
Barrovecchio: In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most famous and acclaimed chefs in the world. One of my favorite experience has been the collaboration with Chef Claire Smith, one of the greatest female chefs in the world today.
Cuvillier: It took place last year in NYC when I had lunch at Gabriel Kreuther. When I entered the place, I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere. You can feel the staff’s energy, passion, and benevolence. It was a very special experience.
What are some of the core qualities that make for great food and/or wine?
Cuvillier: The very core of it all is passion. Knowledge and savoir-faire are important, but the love for the products you work with is what matters most. You need to feel close to the products you use so as to share this fondness with your clients.
Barrovecchio: In general food, quality often includes aspect like size, texture, and appearance, but in my opinion, those aspects are not comprehensive. I think it is very important to consider nutritional aspects. The more natural the food, the higher the quality. Minimally processed food is also easier to digest and typically free of artificial ingredients. Food needs to be seasonal, balanced, and simply delicious!
What is your advice for young people looking to become culinary professionals?
Barrovecchio: To always work harder than everyone else around you. Be driven but patient, respect everything and everyone in the kitchen. Shadowing is also a good way to be aware of what is going on around you. Be dedicated and passionate and never stop learning, you have opportunities all around you!
Cuvillier: My advice would be to remain positive and determined. It is necessary to aim at excellence all the time, even when the work is difficult. Loving what you do helps a lot, and it is also essential to respect the people you’re working with and working for.