Chef Enzo Neri is an artist with a real success story. He has all the qualities required for getting ahead in any career: he is bright and determined; responsible and likeable; and most importantly he pursues his interests and passions. But it has not always been easy travelling the road of success.
I interviewed this international, award winning chef at the Caffè San Francesco in Città di Castello while he was here visiting family on his way from New York City, moving back to Dubai where he is now relocating.
The Mag: When did you discover your passion for cooking?
Enzo Neri: “The interest came to me later in life when I was already thirty years old. And it is the perfect fit for me. As a child I was encouraged by my art teacher to go to an artistic high school. But my father discouraged this because he knew my personality. He was worried about my future and I ended up at a technical school for which, as it turned out, I had a significant capacity because I was good at science. I graduated in IT and I went on to work in many hospitals. It was a very good, secure job.”
The Mag: So how did you start cooking? Not while working in a hospital obviously!
Enzo Neri: “Ha ha! No. One evening while out with a friend I saw a chef I knew from my home town. I yelled to him, “Patrizio, how is business , do you need some help? “And he said, “Yes, come see me tomorrow morning and I’ll put you to work!”
Well, the next morning I had one hell of a hangover, but I fought through the morning distress and went to see him. I spent the rest of the summer in his kitchen learning and enjoying myself! I knew I had found a world I could thrive in.”
The Mag: What happened when the summer ended?
Enzo Neri: “I went travelling in Ireland, and when I came home afterwards I went to the Scuola Bufalini in Città di Castello to enroll in a cooking course. Unfortunately, I was a year too late and had to really convince the administration I could catch up to the other students. It was a turning point for me in my life when I was accepted into the school in this unusual way. It forced me to work especially hard, and this was good because being a chef is not a stroll in the park. It is more like being at war!
All of my interests converge in the kitchen. Art and colors and textures; science and chemistry; and the lifelong desire to create things with my own two hands, things that would impact people’s lives and emotions. Food does this even more than painting or sculpture.”
The Mag: So you completed the three year course at the Bufalini school. What next after that?
Enzo Neri: “ I had learned that cooking is more than just heating up pans, and I went out to find my first job! “Il Postale” was the only restaurant in Città di Castello that had a Michelin star, and the chef there, Marco Bistarelli, was a student of my mother’s when he was a child. Although we didn’t know each other, he offered me a job. I was kind of intimidated to work at the best restaurant in town, and it was very challenging because Marco has extremely high standards. I cried several times while working there with him, but I learned so much. I am very grateful to him.”
The Mag: After “Il Postale” restaurant ?
Enzo Neri: “I needed to learn English. Communicating with people is paramount in my life. It is my personality. Not having the ability to speak and be understood is worse than losing a limb for people like me. So many guests at fine restaurants are speaking English. Communicating with them was something I needed to do. But it was really hard. I got a job in London with a fellow from San Giustino named Vasco, who opened a place there in 1971. I was introduced to him over the phone by a contact, from the Bufalini school. Off I went on an adventure.
Over the next decade I traveled to different countries, worked in different kitchens, learned and invented with some amazing chefs who all contributed something special to help me become the chef I am today. In Spain I worked for a guy who trained at a three Michelin Star restaurant. He taught me about Molecular Gastronomy. In Washington DC. at a Ritz Carlton Restaurant I learned about vacuum packed cooking techniques. Since I had started late as a chef I wanted to have a lot of experiences and learn from many different sources. I started to win awards in London, Dubai and the United States. I finally ended up in NYC as a part owner of a restaurant. It has been an incredible journey. I learned English along the way and this was one of my greatest challenges. Living in a foreign country and having to organize everything for myself with my broken English. It was humbling, and I suffered a lot. But now I am fluent in English and my life is so different because I speak the global language. In fact, my restaurant in New York was called Broken English.
The Mag: Were you in The Big Apple when hurricane Sandy hit?
Enzo Neri: “Yes, it was a very strange ambience. My neighborhood was not effected at all because we didn’t lose power and we are at a pretty high altitude so there was no flooding. It was weird being so safe in the midst of all the discomfort so many other people were in.”
The Mag: What advice would you give the students we saw today during our photo shoot at the Scuola Bufalini?
Enzo Neri: “I was afraid to live a life in which I wake up every day feeling sick about my job. So my advice is make sure you are following your passion. Being a chef in a restaurant is not a job. It is a lifestyle. There is a lot of sacrifice. But there is a lot of satisfaction when people eat your food. You can make them happy. And you may be recognized for your efforts by an award, or a glass of special wine sent into the kitchen by a customer. So I would recommend being certain about your passion. But also be aware that your passions can change as you grow and mature as a person.”
The Mag: It’s too bad you are moving away from New York, I visit there every year. I was hoping to go to your restaurant Broken English and have some of your grandmother’s recipe for goose ragù.
Enzo Neri: “Well, have you ever been to Dubai? You are going to love it! And my goose ragù tastes good no matter where you eat it. It is a very unique recipe, it’s my grandmother’s.
That is why it is so special.”
more at : enzoneri.com