Executive Chef Leonardo Di Clemente of Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay tells us about his special style of fusion cooking.

We understand you grew up on a farm and were taught country cooking by your parents. Can you please tell us a little about that?
My mother is an extremely talented cook; I owe my heartfelt passion in all things culinary to her. One of my fondest childhood memories is of our Sunday family days where the family would gather around as she prepared something special for us to enjoy – a typical Italian tradition where family and food are at the heart of everything!
Fast forward many years, my style of cooking still remains richly rooted in traditional cooking, however I truly enjoy experimenting by taking traditional recipes and infusing them with modern techniques as well as exotic ingredients to create an unexpected twist. I always strive to deliver a truly unique experience for my guests.

You are known for your passion to keep Italian traditional cooking alive. Where does that passion come from and how do you implement it while keeping your dishes fresh and contemporary?
I consider myself a true Italian and, despite having lived around the world and experienced different cultures, I remain strongly connected to the Italian culture. My wife and my family are also all Italian.
Wherever I go, I do my best to look for ingredients that match the same flavours of what you’ll find in Italy. For example, if I’m unable to find locally grown tomatoes that exude the same ripeness and richness of Mediterranean tomatoes, I consider it my responsibility to play with the flavour profile and elevate it as close as possible to what I remember as a child growing up on a countryside farm. Whether that’s through creating flavourful sauces or changing the cooking technique to make it more Mediterranean, I believe there are endless ways to authentically enhance the flavour of the ingredients.

You’ve also spoken of being heavily influenced by your years in Japan. How is this demonstrated in the menus you create?
Puglia, the region which I’m from, and Japan have two things in common: the use of raw fish in both cuisines as well as the use and flavours of raw ingredients. Due to this, fusing Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine is a straightforward process for me. After many years of residing in Japan, I came to learn the art of how to balance the richness of soya sauce with Japanese citrus flavours. From there I slowly introduced Italian cooking with Japanese ingredients and techniques to form my own cooking style. A great example of this is our raw Red Snapper dish which features fresh burrata cheese with seaweed and ponzu sauce – a perfect blend of sashimi and the traditional Italian caprese salad.

What is your signature dish and why is it popular?
Vitello Tonnato is a pure Italian dish with a twist of Japanese. It’s currently featured on Bay View’s new menu. The veal is prepared the traditional Italian way – slowly cooked and served with tuna sauce. I then add tuna tataki and ginger gel before complementing it with nori seaweed croutons (instead of garlic croutons). Vitello Tonnato is a popular dish worldwide and this new contemporary cooking style typically leaves guests pleasantly surprised and curious for more!
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