Giornale online di enogastronomia • Direttore Fabrizio Carrera
Numero 121 del 09/07/2009

THE MAN “The Chairman and I”

13 Luglio 2009
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altThis young chef from Patti, who runs the restaurants in Harrods, London, has become Mohamed Al-Fayed’ s personal chef. Here he talks to us about himself

“The Chairman
and I”

We left him two years ago, the chef of the Georgian Restaurant in Harrods, London’s famous department store. Today, 28 year old Santo Natoli (in the photograph), from Patti has become personal chef to Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian entrepreneur and owner of Harrods, the hotel Ritz in Paris, Fulham F.C., a London football club, and the man who is also one of the richest men in the world.
“He was the one who contacted me to see if I would accept his offer, it was an honor for me,” says Santo Natoli, who during the last two months has started following Al-Fayed on all of his trips around the world. Paris, Edinburgh and Monte Carlo are just a few of the magnate’s residences; places where he regularly goes on business, together with London obviously, and it is here that we met him for an exclusive interview.

What does a sheik eat?
“On the contrary to what one would think, the Chairman prefers simple tasty food, so most of the dishes that I prepare belong to the Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern tradition.”

What are his favourite dishes?
“He loves Italian cooking and its ingredients. I often cook Mediterranean fish, red mullet, sardines and fresh tuna lightly marinated in spices and Italian oil from Abruzzo. He also enjoys pizza and pasta, and adores grilled vegetables and minestrone.”

How is the Middle-East present in your cooking?
“I often serve cous cous and taboulé, as these dishes recall his origins, they are full of spices and naturally cumin must not be left out.”

What about English cooking?
“He loves barbecues, which are very popular in London. He does not really enjoy fussy food though, so his usual breakfast is the typically English bacon and eggs.”

What does he eat which is typically Sicilian?
“He is mad about pistachio nuts from Bronte, and a few days ago I serve some oranges which he really enjoyed.”

altDoes he also drink wine?
Yes, but without exaggerating. Just a few glasses a day and he prefers French white wines, especially Sancerre.”

How do you plan your day’s work?
“My role is to be the coordinator of a team of 5 chefs who are from all over the world. Every day I prepare a menu taking into consideration the tastes and needs of all the members in the family: the Chairman, his wife and their four children.”

How is the menu set out?
“It is divided in an English way. Generally there is a choice of 5 starters and 5 main courses according to the fresh ingredients which are available.”

Who takes care of the shopping?
“Even if Al-fayed very often chooses directly what he would like to eat and takes care of getting in the raw ingredients,
we are usually the ones to do the ordering.” 

What do you mean?
“He is often in and out of big and small stores alike around the world. He is curious to find ingredients that are to his pleasing. When we are in London he often wanders through the Food Hall by himself ordering a large fish or meat, that has taken his fancy and has it sent through to the restaurant to be cooked.”

Could we describe him as a gourmet?
“Absolutely. He certainly is a gourmet, he adores eating well, but not over eating, as he loves things which are simple and healthy, yet full of flavour. Furthermore, he keeps well equipped kitchens in each of his homes as in his restaurants.”

Tell us about how you were chosen.
“I had been working in Harrods for about five years. The Chairman often comes to eat in his restaurants so he can  try out the new dishes on the menu. I had never been in direct contact with him previously, always through a spokesperson. Whereas about two months ago he sent for me and said without mixing words that he really enjoyed my simple cooking. So he offered me the chance to follow him around the world during his business trips, coordinating the other chefs. I thought it over for a few days and within no time at all there I was on his private jet heading for Paris together with the rest of his staff.”

How many people make up his staff?
“There is a butler, a governess, 6 chefs, a couple of press officers and his family. It is obvious though that in each of his homes there is resident staff.”

How has your rapport changed with him?
“Mohamed Al-Fayed is a really cordial and friendly person. He treats his collaborators with great respect and is not as capricious as some of the very wealthy can be. I would say that he understands people’s needs. He speaks to me  directly about what he would like to eat and even jokes with the staff at times. If something is not to his taste he does not rub it in, but expresses himself kindly and politely.”

How has your work environment changed?
“The climate in which I work is relaxed, even if clearly there are moments when it is more stressful due to the frenetic rhythm of work.”

Why do you think he chose you?
“I think that above all he believed in my ability. My way of being reached him through my dishes. I love to add a refined touch to the final dish. My personal interpretation is the fruit of my experience in both Italy and abroad. However the Mediterranean tradition is at the basis of all of my menus and that is the winning card bewitching the sultan.”

Laura Di Trapani

Translation: Deborah Joy Halliday