In the kitchen with... MARCO BARBISOTTI,
Sant Ambroeus, which opened in December in Palm Beach’s Royal Poinciana Plaza, has quickly become a local favorite. It’s no wonder. The design, inspired by Italy’s 1950s Gran Caffes, marries a warm traditional atmosphere with sleek modern lines.
“It’s gorgeous,” says Executive Chef Marco Barbisotti, whose menu delivers a contemporary, fresh interpretation of Milanese cuisine, giving diners the opportunity to taste and discover new flavor combinations that have won Sant Ambroeus restaurants critical acclaim.
Chef Barbisotti, who was born in Milan, said his interest in cooking was sparked early in his life when he learned the traditions of Italian cooking at his family’s restaurant in Italy.
He learned to make pasta from his grandmother; one of the first dishes he made was gnocchi, or little dumplings.
“They were always delicious,” he said.
As his passion for cooking grew, Chef Barbisotti earned a culinary degree at the A.Maggia Culinary Institute of Italy in 2002 in Stresa, Italy. Later, he worked at some of Italy’s most revered restaurants, including the Michelin-starred restaurants Voilà in Milan and La Piazzetta Restaurant in Varese.
At La Piazzetta he worked under the guidance of Morgan Pasqual, his culinary idol, for two years, later joining him at I Cinque Sensi Restaurant in Vicenza.
“After going to school for five years, I decided to travel, going to England, Brazil and France.” All that travel helped him hone his language skills — he speaks Spanish, French, English and Italian, of course.
He moved to the U.S. in 2010 to join Sant Ambroeus Restaurant group, New York’s beloved and authentic Italian restaurants, where he was executive chef of Sant Ambroeus West Village, and later the Soho location.
At both restaurants, Chef Barbisotti oversaw the day-to-day operations, training and supervising the culinary staff. He does the same in Palm Beach.
“Being an executive chef is like being orchestra director — and sometimes a kindergarten coach,” he said. “It’s very intense work.”
What he enjoys most, he said, is the variety of the work.
“Every day is different,” he said. “Every day brings new challenges.”
Creativity, as well as mozzarella and parmesan cheese, fresh pasta and extra virgin olive oil from Italy, are key ingredients to Chef Barbisotti’s winning dishes. His menu focuses on seafood and incorporates local citruses and herbs. Salads with texture, grains and fruits highlight the simplicity of the local produce.
“My goal is for diners to have a great dinner made from the freshest product,” he said.
One of his favorite dishes is Granchio Reale — Alaskan king crab with celery, hearts of palm and horseradish dressing ($31). “It’s always very fresh and delicious,” he said.
Chef Barbisotti and his wife, Anatalia, a private chef in Palm Beach and New York, make their home in West Palm Beach.
Original hometown: Milan, Italy
Restaurant: Sant Ambroeus Palm Beach, 340 Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach, 285-7990, www.santambroeus.com. Hours: Monday 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Mission: There is a lot of confusion on the market on what is really Italian food and “Fake Italian.” My goal is to make sure in the end of the meal, the guests know what it means to eat Italian: Fresh ingredients, best quality and great taste!
Cuisine: Modern Italian
Training: Hotel school in Stresa, Italy.
What’s your footwear of choice in the kitchen? Klogs, the best work shoes I’ve ever worn.
What advice would you give someone entering the field? Be prepared. Not everyone can handle the pressure. It’s a lifestyle where you work long days and don’t see your family a lot. Most of my friends quit after a year. ¦