Is it possible to create an edible time machine? According to Chef Giovanni Maffei, the newly hired Executive Chef at Inspīr, there is. Food triggers memories and infuses a sense of nostalgia that is unsurpassed by other experiences. A simple meal can bring people right back to something they had tasted during their childhood or remind them of a dish they had eaten at a specific place and time.
Chef Giovanni Maffei was born in Bari, Italy. “Bari is a mecca for incredible ingredients,” he told us. “It is the birthplace of burrata, the mozzarella filled with cream. As a coastal city, Bari has an abundance of fresh seafood, such as mussels, sea urchin, squid, and octopus. Probably the most famous dish created in Bari is orecchiette with broccoli rabe, garlic, and olive oil. Another dish I grew up eating that is my favorite is panzerotti. It is a fried calzone, traditionally stuffed with mozzarella di bufala, fresh tomato, and oregano.”
Growing up in an Italian family, Giovanni learned at an early age that quality ingredients are an essential part of good living. As a child, he watched his mother, a butcher, prepare pastas, vegetables, and, of course, traditional Italian meals from scratch. His father, a master carpenter, always had a garden where the family would grow their own fresh vegetables to be consumed throughout the summer, and tomatoes, which would be carefully turned into sauce for the winters.
In 1989, Giovanni decided to follow in his mother’s footsteps and began a career in the culinary arts at the New York City College of Technology. After graduating with an associate degree, Giovanni wanted to continue to hone his skills, so he went on to attend the French Culinary Institute. He graduated at the top of his class and returned to Italy to spend time learning the art of pizza making in Bari. Giovanni also learned how to make mozzarella, and, of course, burrata.
When he returned to NYC, Giovanni began working as a line cook at top restaurants, such as The River Café and Water’s Edge. After working hard as a line cook for seven years, he decided to open his own pizzeria. While owning his own business was rewarding, his passion truly lay in creating culinary masterpieces, so he returned to the kitchen full time.
In 2008, Giovanni accepted a position at Alain Ducasse’s Adour restaurant in The St. Regis New York. After a year, Giovanni was promoted to Chef Tournant at the two Michelin-starred restaurants. Two years later, he was offered the opportunity to open the Andaz 5th Avenue hotel as a Sous Chef. Within a year, he was promoted to Executive Sous Chef, where he spent the next two years leading a team of 25 cooks and creating farm-to-table fare using the highest-quality ingredients.
In 2013, Chef Giovanni accepted the Executive Sous Chef position at the Mondrian Soho Hotel, where the Italian coastal-themed restaurant Isola was located. At Isola, Chef Giovanni was able to put his skills to work, creating a daily fresh pasta program and daily crudo (Italian sashimi) specials.
Now, we are delighted to have him join our team at Inspīr. We invited Chef Giovanni to share with us his introduction to Inspīr.
Why are you excited to be working at Inspīr?
The thing that excites me the most about Inspīr is the ability to change people's lives. For most of my career, I've pushed myself physically, and mentally, to achieve success in mastering the culinary arts. Now, I will be able to use those skills to enhance people's lives, to give them the comfort of fresh home-cooked food made with love.
Why is food so important to overall wellness?
Food is the fuel for life. Food affects our moods, our strength, and our health in general. When people eat a nutrient-rich diet packed with fiber, protein, and healthy carbohydrates, they just feel better. For instance, a soy-glazed filet of salmon with a quinoa couscous and chickpea salad, portioned correctly, is a super meal. It provides the mind, and body, with energy to stay healthy. Ingredients such as honey provide natural energy that lasts longer than eating a candy bar. My goal is to incorporate energy-packed healthy ingredients into every dish, so that the residents at Inspīr feel good and have the energy they need to live active, full lives.
What types of ingredients do you like cooking with?
I enjoy taking simple ingredients and making them shine. Ingredients like fregola, an Italian version of couscous, classically prepared with fresh fish. Chickpea flour, which can be used to prepare polenta, crepes, or gluten-free pasta. Italian's cook with their hearts, which makes the food we prepare very personal.
What does cooking mean to you?
Cooking is a connection for me. It is a connection to my roots. It is a connection to my family. It is how I express myself. When I create a new dish, there must be a connection to a person, ingredient, or place. That is where my inspiration begins. This past March, I had the great opportunity of bringing my wife and son to Italy for the first time. We visited the town I was born in and ate a meal at a pizzeria that has been there for 50 years. It was just pizza, and some grilled octopus, but it was that connection that linked us as a family. It was like an edible time machine.
What do you cook at home?
At home, it's like a potluck. My wife and I take turns cooking dinner. Sometimes it will be fresh pasta or homemade pizza. Other times it will be chicken curry and dumplings. We also enjoy preparing vegetables, and making them taste like meat. My personal favorite is grilled cauliflower steak.
Be sure to visit our blog again, as we’ll be introducing more exciting interior design aspects of our beautiful residence.