Interview with Antonio Buono: “I start with colors for my dishes..”
Dear Antonio, tell us about your career in five fundamental stages.
I started working at a very young age, I was just under fourteen when I took on my first roles in the kitchens of mostly modest restaurants. Then, thanks to encounters with individuals who I consider “key” to my career, things evolved very quickly. Domenico Magnifico, a Romagnolo chef, was the first to introduce me to modern gastronomic cuisine at his restaurant in Cervia. But it was under the guidance of Rocco Iannone, the first Michelin-starred chef I worked for, that I learned how important sacrifice and hard work in the kitchen were for professional growth.
To further advance and internationalize my training, I moved to Spain under the guidance of the three-star chef Santi Santamaria. He was one of the greatest chefs in his country, and it was there that I understood how important it was to evolve while always keeping a close eye on traditional cuisine.
After returning home from Iannone’s, I felt that my education still had gaps: Italy and Spain are two central nations in the global culinary scene, but France cannot be underestimated. So here I am at the Mirazur restaurant in Menton, under the guidance of Mauro Colagreco, where I worked for over seven years. There, I realized how creativity and a touch of madness could be the right ingredients for high-level cuisine. In this challenging but rewarding environment, I met Valentina, with whom I decided to open my restaurant, Casa Buono, in Trucco (Ventimiglia). She gave birth to our first child, Gioele, in 2020, a year when things changed once again. Of course, with the arrival of COVID-19 and the closure of the Tenda tunnel, it was not an easy time, but in some ways, these circumstances allowed us to work calmly and build our business step by step. Now we are beginning to see the results, and we hope that this journey will take us far…
How has the restaurant industry evolved in recent years?
Certainly, in recent years, there has been a lot of media attention on our world. This has both pros and cons: on the one hand, it has allowed a much broader range of people than before to get closer to it. There are places where you can enjoy excellent cuisine at competitive prices. On the other hand, fueled by the continuous and excessive focus of social media, many people make hasty and uninformed judgments, and very few truly understand the sacrifices behind our work. Being a chef in 2023 means dedicating oneself soul and body to cooking; we can say that it is an intrinsic aspect of life.
And how do you think it will evolve in the future?
It is very difficult to make predictions. Certainly, there are extremely current and important topics; for example, we do our best to share and promote sustainable choices. However, these choices do not always depend solely on us and are often influenced by external factors…
From the initial idea to plating, what is the most creative part of your work?
I’m not someone who meticulously plans my dishes and never changes them; often, I start with an idea and then modify it during various stages. I even sometimes make changes during plating. Other times, I realize possible improvements I can make to my creations, so I change a dish from one day to the next. It’s one of the beautiful aspects of having a daily menu. Let’s say I go “freehand.”
What inspires you the most for your dishes?
I would say that in my work, I rely a lot on intuition. I like to wake up in the morning and create something different based on how I feel. It must be said that trends also influence the creative process. For example, monochrome is currently very trendy: often, I start with color to create.
Nice! So, are you telling me that there is a connection between color and flavor? This makes me proud because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, even as a very amateur cook…
Yes, of course, we can somewhat associate the two; for example, take the color yellow: mussels, saffron, and chanterelles, all characterized by shades of yellow, go very well together. Another example is related to seasons: for instance, spring, many of the ingredients associated with it are characterized by green, while in summer, there are more vibrant colors, and the flavors are stronger. In autumn, you can start with orange, think of a good pumpkin risotto where you balance the acidity with some orange…
Is there a dish that holds a special value for you or that you simply prefer to cook?
I would say that when it comes to meat, I love cooking chicken; it’s not easy to do it in a certain way. As for vegetables, I would say beetroot is my favorite.
In your kitchen, how important is plating compared to the sensory experience?
The taste comes first and foremost. Aesthetics certainly play a role, but there are also very simple, even somewhat plain or unattractive dishes that taste great. Personally, I love plating and coming up with new things in this area as well, but lately, the trend is changing. Some time ago, we saw very sophisticated dishes with dozens of elements in a single course; now, there is a growing tendency toward simplicity, with just one main component and a few other accessories.
In your opinion, how important is the interior design and the underlying concept for a high-end establishment?
I think the kitchen of a place has a certain message to convey to its guests; interior design can help convey that message. Furnishings are important, just like in my kitchen; if you start with quality materials, you can afford to work on them as little as possible. We can say that in their simplicity, materials are always more beautiful.
I am convinced that gradually, there will be a return to basics, fewer processes but of high quality, and therefore less waste, fewer unnecessary things…
This is very interesting. You know, at Groppo, we have long supported the idea that to move towards a more sustainable future, it is important to reclaim the ancient values where a piece of furniture, clothing, or a dish was not disposable but made to last. This would result in less waste, less energy spent on continuous production of low-quality items; simply by embracing values that were part of our culture until 50 years ago.
Exactly, I believe that a real change is needed; otherwise, we don’t know where we’ll end up in a few years. The idea of producing simple but durable items that stand the test of time is certainly a good starting point. And you, more than anyone, know the furnishings you’ve created here in the restaurant, right? We chose oak wood, brass, and stone, all characterized by simple and clean lines; that’s the perspective!
Once you told me that you never touch a stove at home, and Valentina takes care of everything. So, how do you spend your free time?
Well, it’s simple, when Valentina cooks, there is at least one child crying who needs to be looked
after [laughter]. Jokes aside, I’m very busy, and the little free time I have, I dedicate it to my family and spoiling my children. Now that they are very young, it’s just right, we’ll see about the future.
Finally, if you had a time machine, what advice would you give to young Antonio Buono about to start his career, or to a young passionate chef entering the world of fine dining?
The advice I would give to young me is to spend as much time as possible working in the kitchen. You have to dedicate your soul and body to this work, to the kitchen. Many now delude themselves into achieving goals quickly that normally take years even just to approach. If you want something, you have to work hard every day to achieve it; standing outside and watching serves little purpose.
In essence, “talk less and walk more!”