Interview: Sebastian Nicoletti Altimari
Despite growing up in Buenos Aires, Sebastian Nicoletti Altimari is Italian through and through. His family emigrated from Italy when he was just a baby but the cuisine of his birth country has inspired, infused and galvanised his life’s journey as a cook.
Ensconced as head chef at BEACHOUSE Ibiza, Altimari is at the top of his game. The menu is all about authentic flavours with dishes designed to emulate Nonna’s kitchen, where everything is made with love, passion and joy – the goal is to create an experience worth remembering. Here he sits down with a strong espresso to talk food.
What first brought you to Ibiza?
I came here in 2010 to work at El Chiringuito with Jerome [Palayer – head chef, El Chiringuito]. Then I went to Alicante to work in a French restaurant but I couldn’t resist coming back here when BEACHOUSE Ibiza was conceived. It’s been three years and I love it.
Can you expand on the BEACHOUSE Ibiza culinary concept?
It’s an Italian kitchen. We focus on authentic flavours, that a tomato is a tomato, you know? We don’t do molecular cuisine, it’s more like your grandmother’s kitchen here, it’s Nonna’s kitchen. We take the flavours of Nonna and add a modern representation, to bring those flavours of the past into the present day. It’s like the bouquet of a good wine, when you taste it and it leaves something in you. I’m always looking for the harmony of flavours.
At what point in life did you know you wanted to be a chef?
All of my grandparents cook, my father cooks, everyone cooks. We would get together every Sunday to eat, to talk – there were always lots of people in the house, kids running around, we shared everything. I’ll never forget the first restaurant I worked in, 22 years ago. The owner said to me on the first day, “Take a week to figure out if you like it. If you don’t like it find something else to do with your life because you will be here a lot, Mother’s day, Father’s day, Christmas day, New Year… You are always going to be inside that kitchen.” After a week I told him I loved it and here I am today. I still love it. I thank God that I love it because its hard work! I love that people enjoy not just the food but everything here: the music, the ambience. Customers don’t come for just food here, they are here for a whole experience and that’s what our entire team works towards.
What are your team like?
We have around 20 people in the kitchen here. I try to be everything for them, chef, psychologist, teacher, accountant. Each of them has a world inside them. I always try my best to treat everyone with respect. We have chefs from everywhere but I find some are better at certain things than others, of course. There is something in the genetics of a chef, Italians cook the best pasta, Argentinians cook the best meats, Spanish the best fish… it’s something in their DNA.
How has your DNA affected your cooking?
I was born in Italy and when I was a baby, my family moved to Argentina. Buenos Aires is full of pasta makers. We are a capital where in certain eras lots of Italian and Spanish emigrated. My ancestors are from Italy and Spain and it’s reflected in the gastronomic culture of Buenos Aires and in my tastes, and in the menu at BEACHOUSE Ibiza. The roots stayed with me. I love Italian food; it’s an authentic, natural cuisine.
What is your food philosophy?
I am not interested in people remembering my name or anything like that, I am only interested that they have a good memory of their time here. It’s a basic instinct for humans to eat, to be nourished and we do it the best we possibly can. I am not interested in bacon ice cream; bacon is bacon, a tortilla is a tortilla, it’s perfect in its natural state and it doesn’t need anything else. I try to take everything back to its roots.
When BEACHOUSE Ibiza closes for the season, how do you spend your winters?
I travel; I go back to Buenos Aires, Italy and France to see everyone. When I go home to visit I cook for my family. I love to cook them slow food, things that are in the oven for four or five hours. They have so much flavour. I also use the disco de arado. It’s an Argentinian thing, made from the blades of a plough. It has a concave shape and you put it over coals.
What produce do you love best in Ibiza?
The produce I love the most are the tomatoes and the eggplants. They have their own unique flavours that are just amazing here.
If you could go anywhere in the world to eat, right at this moment, where would you go?
If you gave me a ticket now I would go to Italy and France. To the La Casa del Prosciutto just near Florence. It’s an old house where they make all their own cured meats and all the people of the town go to eat there. The cook is 80 years old, the pastas are amazing and everything is homemade. It’s real family style. Then I would go to France, to La Table des Ternes. I once ate a crème brûlée there that was incredible.