We don’t need to tell you why food is important. And we don’t need to tell you good food is important, either.
As a people, we’ve been approaching a greater understanding of the ins and outs of fine cuisine.
It’s easier now than ever before for the epicurious among us to seek out and find top-tier restaurants.
It’s also easier for us to learn about the amazing culinary professionals who spend their time finding new dishes, new pairings, new flavor combinations that will delight patrons.
Serving high-quality food and wine is one of the last truly honest professions in the world today.
Our Contacts on the Inside
To help us learn more about what makes culinary professionals tick, we spoke with two pros, Alexandre Cuvillier and Claudia Barrovecchio, both of whom are currently working at Fiola D.C., a high-end restaurant in our nation’s capital.
Cuvillier is a skilled sommelier who has dedicated his life to learning about wine and the people who make it.
Barrovecchio is a talented pastry chef who has worked with many high-end restaurants around the world.
We had the rare opportunity to speak with both of them about how they found their love for food and wine, as well as their thoughts on the real purpose of creating magnificent meals.
And so we welcome you to take a look at our conversation with Cuvillier and Barrovecchio. You just might come away with a new appreciation for the fine foods of your past, present, and future, and the people who make them.
When did you first know that you wanted to become involved with the culinary arts?
Barrovecchio: For me, it was love at first sight. The simple love of cooking is imprinted in my DNA, even though no one in my family is directly involved in the culinary arts.
When every single kid at school wanted to be a vet, an astronaut, a doctor, or a teacher, I was spending my afternoons in my mum’s kitchen. I knew right away that I wanted to be a chef.
I was always a creative kid. I was spending a lot of time in my room drawing, painting, or reading. The thought that I could be creative by using food instead of toys and pencils has fascinated me since an early age.
Cuvillier: I discovered an appeal for the culinary arts when I was about 15. It started when I watched culinary TV shows and developed when I met the director of the catering school I later attended.
At first, I could not believe that it was possible for a client to have an emotional response while tasting a fantastic dish or glass of wine.
What is your favorite aspect of working directly with restaurants?
Cuvillier: What I enjoy above all is the team spirit while working in a restaurant. Each and every person is part and parcel of the restaurant, no matter what his/her position or responsibilities are.
Everyone has to be autonomous and fit into the overall purpose of serving clients. When our teamwork is well executed, guests are pleased and will come back to the restaurant, which always gives me tremendous pleasure and joy.
Barrovecchio: It’s about people. At the end of the day, it’s about making people happy. You are constantly meeting different people, with different cultural backgrounds, personalities, and lives.
You can’t pick who comes into the restaurant, but you can decide how best to serve them and give them a wonderful experience.
Are there any chefs or culinary artists you find inspiring?
Barrovecchio: I am constantly inspired by all the chefs who love what they do and transmit their passion to their creations.
In particular, Massimo Bottura, Gianluca Fusto, and Jordi Roca are my greatest inspirations.
Cuvillier: Yes, many of the chefs or sommeliers I have worked with have inspired me and guided me.
Enrico Bernardo, with whom I have worked for three years, was the first to believe in me when I finished school. I learned a lot from his way of working and how he viewed wine.
Another chef I really find inspiring is Alexandre Gauthier who is the owner of La Grenouillère on the Côte d’Opale in the North of France.
I worked with him long ago and have always shared his will to only work with local producers and use local products. He goes as far as cooking with herbs that come from the nearest ponds. His restaurant’s spirit is one of nature and local terroir.
What is your process for deciding how best to pair flavors?
Cuvillier: Wine and food pairing is the art of choosing a wine that will improve a dish and highlight its flavors. It is necessary to create a symbiosis between the two to enjoy long-lasting flavor sensations.
At first, the sommelier has to taste the dish and the wine separately. This is why having a good relationship with the chef is crucial. To him or her, wine and food pairing often has to do with the sauce and its color. But it also depends on the core of the dish, for example whether the dish is based about meat or fish.
I also like to take into account the origin of the wine as terroir plays a major role, too. For example, a goat cheese such as Crottin de Chavignol fits well with a Sauvignon blanc wine from Sancerre. Or, the white truffle from Alba du Piémont would perfectly pair with a wine from the same region as Barolo or Barbaresco
Also, the food and wine pairing requires great balance. Wine should never overpower the dish itself.
Barrovecchio: It’s always a good start to write down the ingredients that interest you and then play around with them.
From there, you need to consider a few different factors. For example, you need to consider which products are currently in season and whether you’re getting the freshest produce.
The final flavor and the complexity of the dish all start from that.
Usually, I begin by giving myself two or three flavor profiles, then I add supporting components, unusual pairings, and different textures. But you can never forget that simplicity is the key. You don’t want to end up with a muddled dish.
You’ve both traveled significantly for your work. What has been your best travel/culinary experience thus far?
Barrovecchio: The Cayman Islands certainly made a mark on my life and my career. I moved to the Caymans in 2012 and my plan was to be there for not longer than 6 months. Instead, I ended up staying for six years!
Cuvillier: My best travel and culinary experience was when I traveled across the United States’ west coast last August. I visited more than thirty vineyards, from Oregon to Santa Barbara.
I was amazed by the fact that wine can differ so much based on landscapes, micro-climate, and soil components
I was also able to meet extraordinary people in amazing vineyards such as Littorai, Cathy Corison, Liquid Farm, and Domaine De La Côte. This trip enabled me to discover the differences between the French and American vine regions, new cuisines, and new cultures.
It was one of the most fulfilling experience of my life.
What is the work environment like in a major restaurant?
Cuvillier: I think the work environment in a restaurant tends to be strict. It’s part of the pursuit of perfection.
Hierarchy is a crucial aspect as well, as every person has a precise role and has to respect his/her position and obey his/her superior.
This is one of the keys to a successful restaurant. The pace of work and constant pressure is a given, but it’s always for the purpose of pleasing the client.
A restaurant’s team often feels like a big family as we spend long working hours together. Team spirit is a fundamental value.
Barrovecchio: It’s stressful, but if you can deal with it, you’ll love it. The industry is a labor of love. Chefs do this job because they are passionate and because cooking is an art.
I would be lying if I said that it’s always perfect. It’s not. But this industry is an addiction. You love to hate it.
You learn to love the intensity, the passion, and the pressure but also have to cope with long hours, stressful shifts and seemingly endless days. However, I don’t know a chef who doesn’t love challenges!
How do you stay motivated to keep looking for great new wines and/or original recipes and creations?
Barrovecchio: I set my goals, I work on them, and I do my best to stay positive!
Cuvillier: I think it is necessary to be part of a sommeliers’ association or of a tasting group so as to organize blind tastings.
Also, we can discuss and study wine regions, trends, and the market. It’s interesting to continually evolve and keep yourself informed about the new popular vineyards.
Visiting a vineyard at least once a month to meet vinegrowers, tasting wine, and reading a lot about wine are important. In today’s world, we have access to a lot of information thanks to the internet, and traveling abroad is easier than ever, so why not make the most of it?