Antonio Salvatore is a whirlwind. Now in his early thirties, he has already cooked at Michelin starred El Chaflán in Madrid, worked in London and the Canary Islands, and been the private chef for the Vatican’s Ambassador to Russia—that trumps whatever surreal career stop you’ve had, right?
He was also head chef at renowned Semifreddo-Mulinazzo in Moscow. In September 2020, he opened La Table d’Antonio Salvatore au Rampoldi in Monaco, a tiny, five-table restaurant, which instantly became a hot destination and got its first Michelin star earlier this year. And just this past June he opened Casa Limone in New York, a purely Southern Italian restaurant, appropriately, or karmically, or completely co-incidentally within a few blocks of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is a man who cooks for the men of God, after all.
Salvatore was born and raised in Guardia Perticara, a small town in Potenza, in Basilicata, a little-known region of mostly very well-known Italy. It’s squeezed in between Campania, Calabria and Puglia. It is mountainous and forested with a tiny coastal nose, the cliffside town of Maratea, where I’ve had some of the best seafood of my life.
“In Southern Italy, everyone has a big family and often mothers and grandmothers cook for their families of ten people, so naturally you become a chef. Everything is homemade and the ingredients are from the village,” he explains nonchalantly, as to how he got into this line of work.
He wasn’t a “big fan of school” he says, preferring to play music. Like just about every Italian boy and young man I’ve ever met, he loves cars and bikes “but they were expensive. To make some money, I began working in a restaurant and washed dishes. At that time, I knew I wanted to learn more and chose to go to school and become a chef.”
A most excellent choice.
I asked how being a Michelin chef, especially so young, changed his life? “Life didn’t change when I got a star, it just put more pressure on me. Now, I’m focused on keeping the star and living up to the reputation. Once you have the Michelin brand attached to your name, you have to work harder and smarter to meet guests’ expectations. It’s a big challenge.”
His partners in the Monte Carlo Hospitality Group had been itching to do something outside of Monaco—let that sit for a second, someone wants to leave Monaco—and felt a restaurant in New York during a pandemic was a natural evolution. The elegant, 150-person restaurant, open from breakfast through dinner, is already catching on. And, satisfyingly, it serves some particular Basilicata dishes, including Capretto di locarno, which is goat with beans and potato, pappardelle with sheep cheek, and imported burrata with roasted pumpkins and bottarga. “This is very typical where I come from, with the pumpkins. Adding bottarga is something special,” he tells me.
“I like to say we wanted to bring lemons to the Big Apple. It’s rare to find an Italian restaurant that devotes itself to just the Italian South, especially from a chef who grew up in the region,” says Salvatore. He’s clearly excited. “Casa Limone transports guests to my childhood home, to my family’s cooking, and to the places I visited growing up.”
The man’s been around and trailed gold dust everywhere he went. These are his five favorite meals!
Growing up, every Sunday my mother would make homemade pasta with meat sauce that was so delightful. In Italy on Sunday, it’s a ritual to have a big meal, whether for lunch or dinner. My mom would cook for our family of five every day, but on Sundays when my grandparents and other relatives came over, she was cooking for 12 to 20 people, and it was always memorable. Everyone sits down and eats together for an uninterrupted period of time to enjoy each other's company.
My mother’s homemade pasta was usually served with a tomato-based meat sauce made from veal and pork that was cooked on the stove for hours. She would also make a few other dishes, like lamb and potatoes and a nice salad with all of the vegetables coming straight from our garden. To this day, I have such a great feeling of love and comfort when I think of my mom’s Sunday dinners.
I’ll always remember my first gastronomic culinary experience. At the age of 15, I visited Don Alfonso 1890 and was blown away. As you can tell by the name, the restaurant has been around for many years and is one of the most well-known in Italy, located in a luxe boutique hotel in Naples, with an extensive wine selection, a garden and nice views of the property. It’s one of my favorites and I highly recommend it. Everyone knows a little bit about Don Alfonso and I’m happy my first real gastronomic experience was with him. Even as a teenager, I was in awe of the menu. I remember loving the Vesuvio di Rigatoni, which was full of Southern Italian flavors made with rigatoni, tomato, basil, and provolone.
One of the most modern dining experiences I ever had was with Ferran Adrià. El Bulli was a super creative concept at a time when molecular cuisine was on the rise. Things like liquid olives, jellies and fumes were all new and people were curious about how to savor the evolution of the new era. I lived in Spain for almost five years and worked with various top chefs there. I started my career with Ferran and while I didn’t work at El Bulli, when I ate there it was so interesting to see how a molecular kitchen operates. It’s experimental. Something simple as a tomato, and all the different ways you can transform it into something more involved. It’s unlike any other experience. Very futuristic and makes you want to be more creative.
I was fortunate enough to work with Joël Robuchon before he passed. You always felt his presence in the kitchen. His potato purée recipe was just potatoes, cream and butter, but so surprising and delicious. The tartare with caviar was amazing as well. He was the prime example of how to run a traditional French kitchen. The way each plate was presented is how I aspire to run my kitchen. In every restaurant, everything was executed exactly the same way each time. I think he was the only chef in the world that embodied this style.
A more recent favorite meal was in New York at Jean-Georges. It’s a big restaurant that is always full of guests. The first time I visited, I was surprised at how they were able to execute such beautiful service and beautiful food at that volume. I loved the egg toast with caviar. It looked very simple but was quite special. The pigeon was cooked with anise and cinnamon, and it was so tasty and beautifully plated. In America, corn dishes are done very nicely and I loved the corn fritters here. The corn and black truffles complemented each other very well. I also enjoyed his steamed Atlantic cod, since it’s not that simple to give that type of fish flavor. Here, it was quite pleasant; it was soft and paired smartly with the lemongrass. I appreciated the approach to only using two or three ingredients in each dish and showcasing how they all play so well together.
My Five Favorite Meals features the most cherished dining experiences of bartenders, chefs, distillers and celebrities.
Interview has been condensed and edited.