Holding the reigns at The Franklin Restaurant by Alfred Russo, at The Franklin London – Starhotels Collezione in Knightsbridge, Chef Russo has made a name for his daring and inventive approach to cooking. Reaching acclaim at an impressively young age, Russo opened Dolce Stil Novo in the breathtaking location of the Reggia di Venaria, the royal Savoy residence outside Turin at the age of 22. He was named by L’Espresso’s Guide as Italy’s Best Young Chef in 2004, while soon after he received Gambero Rosso’s 2 forks and accredited by the Michelin guide, awarded with one star when he was just 25.
Chef Russo has taken his quintessential stamp and approach to Italian culinary tradition globally, notably travelling between Italy, London and Dubai, publishing many books and speaking at some of the most prestigious international culinary conferences. The Piedmont-born chef has become a true ambassador of Italian taste, with a dedicated following of London epicures.
We sat down with the Michelin star chef to discuss his passion for Italian cookery, where you’ll find him when he’s not in the kitchen and why the happiness of others is his greatest pleasure.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
When I was a boy, I had a shortlist of three creative professions: a carpenter, a tailor or a cook! My first job was at the age of 13 when I worked in a kitchen and I was hooked, the rest, as they say, is history! I was captivated by the energy and pace of the kitchen, the intensity of perfecting and exploring tastes and flavours, the passion of chefs at work in the kitchen.
What’s your signature dish?
Oyster ice cream, the white pasta with parmesan and olive oil and my vegetable soup with 18 vegetables are just some of my signature dishes.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Respecting the terroir and understanding the seasons and the produce that each season brings and understanding the needs of your diners, but ingredients are the real protagonists of my work, and the techniques to enhance the life of these seasonal ingredients. Our menu at The Franklin Restaurant is modern and contemporary, strongly influenced by Italian eating culture. Vegetables certainly lead the way, but a quality piece of sustainably farmed meat or wild-caught fish is always incorporated.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
We always strive to be the best in what we do. I was born in Italy in a place where there is no bigger love than the love for food and my approach has its roots in this ancient culinary culture. Of course, travel is important to me, for the simple reason that it brings new ideas – you never stop learning, and it is always important to listen and take advice from others. But, in the end, yes, my personal preferences do influence the menu.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
Personally, I love the summer. I have three big gardens where we grow vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers and where we pick them up at the right moment of maturation for each ingredient. You know that Italy is the country with the biggest biodiversity in the world, we have the largest number of edible vegetable species in the world (7000), no matter what region, each has more vegetable species than any other country in Europe.
What is your favourite ingredient?
I am from Turin, the capital of Piedmont: land of great wines, cheeses and amazing meats, it would have to be the white truffle, which is harvested only in October and November.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
At home we eat simple, pasta al dente, some salads dressed with great olive oil, some fish or meats cooked simply and vegetables. A rich basket of seasonal fruits never fails.
When are you happiest?
To be a chef and restaurant owner, with the responsibilities this brings, isn’t easy, but honestly, when I’m confident that all guest’s and team’s needs are taken care of, I’m happy. In my life, the happiness of my family makes me happy.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
At the stadium, the cinema, the theatre, on a plane travelling around the world, in a museum, visiting a new city, on top of a mountain or at the beach. Me and my wife Stefania love to travel, to have new experiences, learn and live our life to the fullest!
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
Takeaway would have to be crispy focaccia with Parma ham and cheese, or focaccia with grilled vegetables mozzarella, balsamic and basil. Comfort food? Personally, I don’t like this term as it underestimates the food in question. Lasagna is gastronomic or comfort food? I think you know my opinion about it!
Where is your favourite place to dine?
In London, it has to be at The Franklin Restaurant, of course!
Why is the region of Piedmont so special to you?
Simply, it’s a foodie paradise! But Piedmont has some personal favourite magic to me – with its lakes, the mountains, the unforgettable landscapes and Turin, the first Italian capital with its palaces and La Reggia di Venaria which is UNESCO-protected. The beautiful views of the Alps and one of the largest collections of Egyptian artefacts outside of Cairo, and a world-class cinema museum in the Mole Antonelliana.
The Franklin Restaurant by Alfredo Russo The Franklin Hotel, 22-28 Egerton Gardens, London, SW3 2DB