Lello Favuzzi: Mastering Creative Simplicity

The Notebook | 16th April 2019

The culinary mastermind behind Mortimer House Kitchen shares his singular passion for simple cuisine with cutting-edge flavour

Antonio ‘Lello’ Favuzzi is the creative mastermind behind the unique blend of flavours at the heart of Mortimer House, and leads his team daily in dreaming up seasonal menus that effortlessly blend the rustic classicism of Italian cuisine with the spice-fuelled eclecticism of the Israeli sharing culture. Originally hailing from Sassari, Sardinia, our head chef has brought an indefatigable charm and energy to Mortimer House Kitchen, creating a menu that celebrates simplicity and imagination in equal measure, where, for example, burnt carrots are served with yoghurt, tahini and fennel pollen, and charcoal cauliflower comes soaked in yoghurt and za’atar. His journey into the world of cuisine began as a teenager, when a catering college visited his local school and he signed up to what would become a rollercoaster love affair with food–one that would begin at the five-star hotel, Cervo in Sardinia, and witness him taking the lead at a number of high-profile London restaurants, such as Franco’s, The Wolseley and L’Anima (his most recent culinary adventure pre-Mortimer House). Here, the ever-energetic chef tells Maslow’s Notebook about his early childhood memories, and explains why cooking with simplicity will always win over complicated cuisine.

Where did your obsession with food stem from as a child?
I was born in Sardinia, but my parents are not from there originally–my mother is Sicilian and my father is from Puglia, so there was a big influence from both cultures in terms of food. In Sardinia, we really have everything–in the centre of the island you have lamb, sheep, cows, and so on, and the entire surroundings are coast, so you also have the most amazing seafood–on the north-east side where I come from, we have the greatest lobster of the Mediterranean. My grandfather still owns a big farm the centre of Sardinia–so, cooking was always at the centre of everything when I was a child. The main topic of everyday family life was always food. When we would be sitting having lunch, we would be talking about what we were going to have for the next meal (laughs).I guess that is how I became obsessed. My grandmother would always be making focaccia, and as a very small child I was always behind her in the kitchen, because I wanted to make the dough.

How do you manage a large kitchen? What skills does it require?
I was one of the last of my generation to do military conscription, and it was a great experience that taught me discipline. The main thing in the kitchen is that you need to be able to trust your people and you need to be able to delegate with that trust, otherwise you cannot control a brigade, and deal with the rules, and timings and cleanliness, and all of that, at once. Of course, with Mortimer House there is also the side of being involved in events, cooking classes, social media, and it is a little pressure on my side but I really enjoy it because I am trying to shout out about this new blend of the Italian and Israeli that we have here. I love that sense of being Mediterranean all in one, and new flavours excite me.

What most excites you most about the Israeli/Italian blend you have created at Mortimer House?
For many years, I only cooked Italian, and, obviously, there are limitations. At the moment, I can express myself much more wildly, and use so many more ingredients and spices. It’s all about this nice response we create at Mortimer House between the two cultures–we don’t do simple steamed broccoli or spinach, for example, we give real flavour to it; we use tahini, and we use lots of spice, such as paprika and cumin. The burned carrots with honey and rosemary we just put on the menu are also really unusual and have so much flavour. In Italy, you would just never use those flavours. The culture of eating they have in Tel Aviv is absolutely amazing. It’s a new world to me, one that I wasn’t aware of until I travelled there with Guy Ivesha. I got the sense on my trip there with him that Tel Aviv and Israeli food are really at the centre of the globe in terms of the blend of influences and this sharing culture, where you don’t have your individual dish but five or six small dishes together.

What for you is the best approach to cuisine?
I believe in simple, fast cuisine with high quality… I think we had a moment of fine dining in culture a couple of years ago, but I think now is the moment when that is being taken away to show that you can have just two or three elements and have the best dish in the world, because simplicity and quality will always win. What is exciting is to do new things, but also to come back to the simple and the classic, and even the reason to go to a restaurant. In the last ten years, the kitchen world has got so much attention, from critics, from networks from television… There is always something involving food on television, and everyone is an expert now. But food is really about enjoying good company, not coming to a restaurant to be the most critical person at the table, or spend five minutes shooting a dish from every angle to put a picture on Instagram.

What is the perfect daily diet in your opinion? Should we eat everything in moderation?
Well, three times a day is too easy to say. I believe you need to eat more than that, but in small portions–personally, I eat small portions about six times each day, and don’t eat too much eggs or red meat, but do eat lots of vegetables. It’s very important to me that breakfast or lunch has to be as strong as the dinner, because you don’t want to go to bed very heavy at night. There always needs to be balance. In Italy, we always say never abuse something good, because the extra always kills everything.

Interview by John-Paul Pryor