The man from Italy who has taken over a restaurant's kitchen. And no, he's not a chef

Juan Jose, who is cooking at Food Exchange in the city, wants to show this part of the world what truly authentic Italian food is

In a bizarre turn of events, an inauthentic tiramisu led a diner to take over the restaurant’s kitchen.

The man in question, Juan Jose, is a long stay guest at the Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road. Of Italian and Portuguese lineage, the 47-year-old spent nearly 30 years living in the Italian municipality of Sernaglia della Battaglia and later in the city of Montebelluna. Last seen, he was whipping up his mother’s Italian recipes at Food Exchange, the hotel’s coffee shop.

“One day I tried the tiramisu here and told them not to call it that. To be fair, it tasted good, but to me, it just wasn’t tiramisu,” he says. Listing the ingredients and method with which it is made, back home in Italy, he adds that the traditional recipe does not contain alcohol.

Clearly, he seems unamused by Indianised Italian flavours. There are misconceptions, he says. “People often think we add garlic in everything; that is not true. We don’t have garlic bread in Italy,” he announces.

Another thing that leaves him visibly upset is pasta loaded with chicken, broccoli and additions. “If it is a pesto pasta, the pesto is the topping. If you want chicken just order a roast chicken on the side,” he says sounding half amused, half exasperated. As for adding seasoning and ketchup to the food... you better make sure your hands are far from them when he is around your table.

Juan loves food. He believes that if you like to eat but don’t know how to cook, you miss much of the pleasure.

“I started cooking at 24, soon after my wedding. But that does not mean my wife can’t cook,” he pauses for effect, and grinning, adds, “She is much better than I am. Sometimes when I am cooking here, I phone her to ask her for recipes.”

The man from Italy who has taken over a restaurant's kitchen. And no, he's not a chef

Juan’s family is currently based out of Canada while he has been in Chennai for almost a year on work, as an employee for Val Engineering Company. Work has also taken him to Malaysia, Denmark and Germany.

He started visiting India in early 2000. Despite having travelled extensively, Juan cheekily says, “I never eat Italian anywhere because it’s not Italian.”

After his regular day job, Juan gets back to the hotel by 7 pm and by 8 pm he dons the apron while busily giving instructions in the kitchen along with Chef Kalaiselvan Manivannan.

Today, he is discussing how to do ravioli fillings. Juan has created a dinner buffet, which has a cyclic menu for 14 days. The menu offers three different pastas, one risotto, three appetisers, three main courses, pizzas, bruschettas and of course the root cause of his existence in the kitchen at Food Exchange — tiramisu.

His version is moist, soft, rich with cacao and redolent with the flavour of coffee. “I knew I was a good cook when I realised two things: one, most things were clean in the kitchen once I was done cooking and and two, I could prepare a meal with whatever is inside the fridge,” he says.

Despite his love for all things culinary, Juan says he prefers not to make a career out of it. “It’s too much hard work,” he grins.

Juan Jose is cooking dinner at the Food Exchange till March 1.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:15:01 AM |

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