Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

The chef from Sicily finds food and travel the perfect recipe

Posted by Kimberly on September 4, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 4, 2007, page 2 (1,142 words)

Two roads diverged. And the one chosen by Wynn Resort chef Aldo Volpi has certainly made all the difference, for it has given him the opportunity to fulfil his dream of travel.
As Il Teatro’s chef de cuisine, Aldo has experienced the star style of Miami Beach, the teeming city of Jakarta, the moneyed in Monte Carlo and the freezing point of Moscow, over the course of his twenty years in the hospitality industry.
It probably seemed like an impossible dream for a young boy from Sicily, living in a town that held little more than 10,000 people.
“As a youngster what I always liked was travelling, seeing new places,” he says, adding that cooking seemed like one of the easiest jobs to allow for such experiences.
“When you’re travelling you know you can find a job anywhere,” he adds.
And it’s the constant travel and new experiences that shaped the chef guests at Il Teatro see today. For Aldo, it’s never been “just a job.”
“I believe this job, you have to like it.
“It’s not an office job. It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of hours, you have to deal with a lot of people. “Sometimes you are in the mood sometimes not.
“People don’t care about that. You have to look like you are in the mood all the time.
“But I really enjoy it anyway. I have fun doing this,” he says.
And the enjoyment of cooking didn’t come from his mother’s kitchen, as may be thought. According to Aldo, she’s a wonderful cook but hardly pushed him into the vocation.
“My father wanted me to be a computer analyst. My mother wanted me to be a doctor. The usual stuff!” he recalls.
Thankfully his choice of career has done nothing to create distance between them, at least only in a physical sense.
“Neither of parents have taken a plane before so making them come over here would be asking too much,” he says, adding that he couldn’t imagine them landing in Hong Kong with a lack of English or Chinese to guide them.
But he adds that they will need to learn the art of flying, if they expect to see their only grandchild, Aldo’s five month old daughter, Dylan.
Asked how the name came about, Aldo recalls that it was no easy task.
“You start with twenty names in your mind, then you start going to the internet. That’s the worst thing you can do,” he says.
“Then on the day, something comes into your mind and you say, that’s it. This is the one. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
“We [his half Hong Kong, half Thai wife] decided together,” he says.
And a mutual decision was also made to come to Wynn, Macau, having previously been at the Mandarin Oriental in Jakarta.
“I was there for a couple of years and then once Wynn was almost on the way to opening, Steve Wynn called me and asked me if I was interested to join the company and with some research I obviously accepted,” he recalls.
He adds that his research showed Wynn to be a lover of fine food, one who liked to be involved and worked with quality.
“He’s not worried too much about the costing. He gives you a little bit more space than other companies may do so it’s better for us as a chef to have a little bit more spending power,” says Aldo.
For Aldo, the past year at Wynn had been “a wonderful ride.”
“Wynn opened in September 2006 but we were already operating on the inside from the 1st of August,” he says.
“We invited all the staff to live and eat in the hotel so we had a good run to get to know each other so when we opened we had things already pretty much figured out.
“You can’t have that with a lot of hotels because obviously it costs a lot to do that sort of training so for all things, it exceeded my expectations,” he says.
But some things, like criticism, are par for the course, regardless of the establishment’s standard.
“You have to accept it. It’s part of the job. You get 5000 people a month.
“You’ll obviously get somebody who criticises your food, who doesn’t like it. We may have made a mistake in the kitchen.
“But that happens,” he says, adding that there’s the other side of the coin, where compliments abound.
“We also have people who really like the food, who come to the kitchen and compliments us.”
But he admits that criticism is part of the job, something the team try to learn from.
“I cannot guarantee that there will not be a mistake and that 100% of the people will be happy. It would be too arrogant for me to say that,” he adds.
Arrogance is hardly in his make-up. This is a chef that delights in the opportunity to mingle with guests, taking orders and learning first hand their likes and dislikes.
And one thing the patrons at Il Teatro certainly like is the atmosphere. The restaurant is set in such a way as to provide a means of entertainment, whether it be the singing fountains of Wynn’s lake or the open show room of the kitchen.
It wasn’t always light hearted entertainment though, as Aldo recalls his time at the Mandarin Oriental in Jakarta, during the Aceh tsunami.
“It was a big impact. You had all these people from Europe, the States, to help out.
“We had a lot of journalists and photographers stay at the hotel so we got to see a lot of photos before and after it happened,” he says, adding that “it was a bit scary.
“It makes you think how little you are.”
Here in Macau, those sorts of experiences have enable Aldo to become a better person. Admitting to his temper, Aldo adds that “I’ve tried to keep it under control. We have a nice team and we work very harmoniously together.
“’Obviously it’s an open kitchen and you cannot start going crazy.
“Over the years you start to learn how to behave a little bit better,” he says.
What with the advent and competition, of The Venetian Macau, it seems he’s also learnt to work a little bit harder.
“Personally I think it’s a good thing. It makes you want to do more, what with the competition,” he says adding that it makes him try harder and increases motivation.
“I think competition helps to up the standards all over the city. It makes it more interesting. Makes you stay on the edge, not relax too much!” he says.
And the dream of being proprietor of his own restaurant is definitely there, as is the case for most chefs.
As Aldo says, “everybody’s got dreams.”

 

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