Matteo Metullio achieves his first success and awards at restaurant “La Siriola” in San Cassiano, several years after he decides to return to Trieste to get closer to his family, where he begins a new experience with his friend Davide De Pra, both at the helm of “Harry’s Piccolo”. It only takes a very short time to get the success it deserves.
Davide De Pra takes his first steps in the family restaurant, where he discovers his love for the kitchen. Another great passion of Davide is skiing, which he will abandon once he decides to establish himself in haute cuisine. With tenacity and hard work, he follows his path with Matteo, first at the “La Siriola” restaurant and then at “Harry’s Piccolo”.
The Best Chef: Thanks for having us. Let’s start. How did your adventure together start here in Trieste?
Matteo Metullio: For many years, there has been an important event in Trieste called Barcolana. This year it turns 53. Chefs have been involved in this event for about six or seven years. Me and Davide have always participated in it. During this event, we were always guests of Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta. So, we had a chance to see the square, its surroundings and meet the owners of this place. For me, coming from Trieste, it is also a particularly emotional bond. We sat down at a table: me, Davide and Mr. Alex Benvenuti, and we started dreaming about another restaurant in Trieste.
The Best Chef: We can say that both of you are quite young, obviously concerning age and not experience. For that we feel curious to know, how did your approach to gastronomy start?
Matteo Metullio: Cooking has been my great passion since I was a child and this passion led me to leave Trieste at the age of 14 and enrol at the Falcade Hospitality Institute in the Province of Belluno. This essentially and involuntarily was also my first contact with Davide, as Falcade is Davide’s hometown. So, the Hospitality Institute was “at his home”. I left Trieste for the mountains. In 2010, we both received a job offer in the Dolomites in Val Badia. Davide was gaining experience there, which he will tell you about later, and I ended up in the kitchen of St. Hubertus at Norbert Niederkofler. During all the gin & tonics and beers after work, we talked about what one does and what the other does.
The Best Chef: Over all these yeas, what can be one of the main reasons that kept you together, made you get along well?
Davide De Pra: The thing that connects us, let’s say … let’s call it in a good sense of the word, is competition. The fact that you always want to do better, to express more, not to rest on your laurels, not to let go, but always try to change, always do your best. And this constant confrontation, this constant discussion, this constant thinking allowed me to understand that the situation is completely different. That there is some kind of magic behind this way of working, being together.
The Best Chef: At what point did your work life cross? What was the path that led you to land here at Harry’s Piccolo?
Matteo Metullio: In the spring of 2013, I was offered to become a chef at Siriola Restaurant, and I needed not just one arm, but two arms and two hands. I talked to Davide and said: Look, it is such an opportunity, such an adventure. The restaurant is already known. It is also a big responsibility, because we start in the summer season, which is usually a little worse, as the clue season in the mountain is the winter one. I thought we had plenty of time to create a good team with good prospects for the future, and it has been so. We have obtained excellent results, of which we are proud, it is what every chef in his career desires. In seven years, we have seen a great evolution of the restaurant, in terms of quality and also in terms of guests. Then in 2017, my partner got pregnant, and in 2018, in February, Nicolo’ was born. For about a year, I was able to manage with the distance. It must be noted that you work in the summer, you are at home in the spring, and in the fall. So, you have to evaluate everything: where to go with the family, with the child in Trieste or in the area of Viterbo where my partner was. Suitcases or not, it was all a bit complicated, so after starting this business with Davide in Trieste, we said: But why don’t we try to start in Trieste, knowing we have a solid foundation here.
Davide De Pra: I also said: why not? We decided to do it, to do it together, to do it differently than usual, where there is usually one cook and then a whole “climbing” brigade, we said: Why not do something together this time and completely, with all the burdens, honours and responsibilities and we started from there. It was during the time of Harry’s ex-owner and the Grand Hotel Duchi d’Aosta. He already had a vision of it, saying, “It seems like a beautiful idea: new, innovative, to which we can commit more work.” In fact, it has brought us many awards, but above all the satisfaction of our guests, our customers, creating a well-coordinated team in such a short time, also working in a much faster and more targeted way.
The Best Chef: Let’s talk a bit about Italian cuisine, as young talents, how do you see the future here in Italy for haute cuisine? How do you think fine dining will be post Covid?
Matteo Metullio: I think an Italian chef must recognize and know how lucky he is to live in a country where the food and wine culture is so important. In my opinion, you should look for small producers, look for raw materials; from north to south. What we have here in Italy is exceptional. The whole world envies us, and we, especially in the recent period, especially new generations, including mine, copy the trends and fashions of other countries. I am certainly interested in the cuisines of other countries, and so is Davide and our employees. Why? Because curiosity should never diminish in our work. Exchange. Fortunately, within a few hours you can find yourself in a different part of the world and find a bond or friendship with a colleague from Japan, Denmark, or South America with whom you can have new experiences, four-handed dinners. You are interested in what he/she does because anyone is intrigued with new things. But we have to realize that people who come to Italy, especially people who come from abroad, want to eat Italian, they want to eat our products. So, the technique, cooking methods, combinations can be changed, but the basis of our future and what will happen when we recover from COVID is to sell what we know best: egg noodles; we know how to prepare risotto, how to use vegetables that can come from northern, central, or southern Italy, we know our fish markets, truffles. We have such a variety of great products, we have the skills to put them on a plate, so in my opinion the big restart in Italy, as I see it considering Italian fine dining, is based on our tradition. Of course, version 2.0, of course, visible in the modern world. This is, in my opinion, a winning weapon.
Davide De Pra: At this point, if we want to find the only positive thing about this damn virus that has hit the whole world, it’s that the world has breathed a sigh of relief. The world has slowed down, this crazy pace that did not allow us to educate ourselves properly, to pay due attention to details and other things. This is what we encounter with small producers in a small Italian and non-Italian selection, also from abroad. The products that are coming back, as good as they were a few years ago, when maybe you did not sell that much, but could have been selling better quality because of that. Unfortunately, the trend has repeatedly forced the market to produce more and more. Instead, in my opinion, we need to reflect on it and understand how important it is not to produce too much, but to try to find the right balance, the right way, to create exceptional quality, one of a kind. Even or especially for a tourist, it should be an incentive to find products that can only be found here, that can only be found in Italy. Now, thanks to globalization, you can find a little bit of everything everywhere. Meanwhile, a person who goes on a trip specifically to Italy, to see our excellence, see our stuff, needs to able to find a product and understand that it is different, e.g., buffalo mozzarella, burrata, tomatoes. In my opinion, showing this, especially to foreign customers, is one of the issues that we can and should focus on.
The Best Chef: Pros and cons of being two captains in charge? Why and how did you come to this choice?
Matto Metullio: The choice we made was made because of the interpersonal relationship between him, and me because of the similar vision of what we wanted to create in the restaurant. But it was also made because life is not only about work, not only about the restaurant. It is important to give people opportunities to develop, sometimes even to the detriment of the financial part, because at first glance I would say that the fact that it is two of us or at least the fact of enlarging the team etc. to have more free time is certainly related to the financial aspect. But I think financial sacrifice when faced with the possibility of having free time, having a moment when you can be with your family and share beautiful moments, the possibility of just going for a swim in the sea because you know that at that moment you have a partner who covers for you, and vice versa, is invaluable in my opinion. From this point of view, I only find the positive aspects. Because team development, in the case of the relationship we have, is associated with the fact that we try not to do the same thing, but we can do two different things at the same time, speeds up the time of action to have time to swim in the sea or just have an hour to think about a new dish. For me, this is where our strength lies.
Davide De Pra: There are many examples of family ties, blood ties, such as the Costardi brothers, Cerea. Examples where the family bond actually exists, so it’s normal for it to happen. Friendships are generally much rarer. Let’s say you are born into a family; you cannot choose it. You can choose your friends. So, on one hand, you can always think negatively before making certain choices. But we share days and days, hours, and hours of work. We also spend time together after work, on days off and on holidays. In my opinion, making such a choice, the possibility of such cooperation, on one hand requires more courage, but on the other, it can bring even greater satisfaction precisely because it can be more difficult.
Matteo Metullio: Passion, compliments from customers, opening a new place, the results in the guide are things that give you incentives, fuel you for every day.
The Best Chef: What is your opinion on hospitality recruitment crisis? And how are you facing it?
Matteo Metullio: Our entrepreneurs who decide to be involved in enogastronomy, as everyone says, face a real challenge. In sports, when someone wins, it means they have achieved an amazing result. There is a very high risk in the enogastronomy sector, because for this sector to be profitable, sometimes you must ask for more hours and more sacrifices, or sometimes – I am not talking about our example which is very strong – also for impossible things. So, we make young people lose interest in this job.
Davide De Pra: At this point, as far as we are concerned, at the kitchen level we are very lucky, because in a very short time we managed to create a great team, all employees are smart, most of all on the human level, in the sense that for us maybe it’s better not to have a “master” who has done 150,000 internships and gained 150,000 experiences, and is s crazy, but to have people who are good people on the human level, and that’s our starting point usually. This type of choice has always rewarded us so far because we have employees with whom we share all our days, our ideas, our stuff.