Young chefs and tradition: Antonio Gentile of Red Fish

Young chefs and tradition: Antonio Gentile of Red Fish

Antonio Gentile is the chef of Red Fish in Ostia: we met him to let us tell his relationship with tradition and its history.

We would like to let you listen to the audio track of the interview, more than half an hour in which Antonio Gentile never interrupts his desire to tell about himself , not even for a second . A boy capable of getting naked without any superstructure, simple and direct like his kitchen at Red Fish in Ostia (corso Duca di Genova, 22 / b), but above all aware of where he started, how he got there and where is going. 


How and where did your path in the kitchen start? 
I graduated from ITIS as a mechanical expert and to earn some money and go on vacation. One summer I started working as a waiter in a restaurant near Vesuvius with many covers: once the cook didn’t show up and the kitchen, between ordinary reservations and ceremonies, panicked. I did not want to stay in the dining room and I proposed to help out in the kitchen, so I spent that day between fries that I did not know if they were cooked and appetizers of cured meats and pickles. I did not mind and asked to stay in the kitchen, I went on vacation and returning I realized that I wanted to continue, that I liked being between fires and pots. So I went back and never left, until I decided to enroll in a cooking school and chose Rome to do it.

What happened then?
Even after school I was lucky enough to go to work with Antonio Sciullo, at George’s in via Veneto: what a place! A set of incredible professionalism. I joined an organized brigade, in a world I did not know and I started with starters, between internships and school. This job takes a lot away from you, you have to embrace it completely with a reckless passion, because only then at a certain point it begins to give you everything back. I was lucky enough to have started well immediately, with Sciullo. After that I went to Imàgo da Apreda, then to the Amalfi Coast at the Capo d’Orso lighthouse which has a Michelin star and is gorgeous, then the passage from Heinz Beck. The latter, 2 years old, was the most mature one, from which I took a lot, but if I had to say the experience that struck me most in terms of technique was always on the Amalfi coast, in Furore by Antonio Sorrentino, an incredible chef. I took something from everyone, but from them I then wanted to go away to give space to myself. There is no school to which I feel I belong: even if it can be nice to bond with a teacher, I know that I want my own path and today, to say, I cook aubergines with my own technique, which is halfway between how Apreda prepares them and how Beck prepares them.


Speaking of individual path, how do you see the future?
Today there is the Red Fish, I don’t see anything else. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’m fine. Alessandro (one of the partners, ed) was a madman in his time, I had just returned from London and he hired me immediately without even trying. I too, I don’t deny you, had my fears: organizing my own kitchen was an experience that I had never had before; creating a team that depended on me and making it work was a responsibility that I didn’t know whether to take on. We decided together to bet and trust each other, it went well and even if when Lele (Daniele Usai, from Il Tino restaurant) left, my partner and I had thought about taking the place he left , to make our own. Today I am happy to have stayed at Red Fish and to continue here again. I also thought that, out of respect, I would never have been able to open my own place a few hundred meters from this one. Then, in Rome or who knows where, tomorrow who knows. 


In the dishes that you imagine and create seasonally, is there something that you always put and then look for?
Myself! Let me explain … At the beginning, in the first months, I tried to put on the plate what I had technically learned in my experiences, then one day Luigi Cremona came to dinner and said to me: ” Everything is good, I understood that you are good, but where is Antonio in these dishes?“Well believe me it opened my mind and then my heart. Today in my kitchen there is all my history, my tradition and my childhood memories. Today I peel the onions for the Genoese one by one and I want it to be like this, because my Genoese – which is my favorite dish – must be as I always saw it made by my mother. I put and look for myself everywhere, from Genoese to bread, sponge and rice waffle. I’m in here most of the day and if it wasn’t myself in what I create, it would be a problem.

Speaking of hard life, how important is it in this profession to find understanding in love?
I don’t want to make a wink ,but Paola for me is fundamental in everything. We met in London, when I was working at Heinz Beck, then we moved here and it’s wonderful to know that doing the same job we understand each other straight away. I feel that my dream is his and this has no hard price to pay, it just makes you happy by repaying you for everything. She knows what it’s like to go out at 4am and work all day, not having parties. It is essential to have a shoulder, an emotional landing, especially in times of difficulty, when an activity struggles from every point of view to live and survive, especially in a neighborhood like Ostia. They come to terms with dreams. Last night he was here for dinner and he is the most ruthless critic I have, whatever he tastes he always finds something wrong and this stimulates me a lot. Today I have a good, selected clientele, but the first 2 years were difficult. She still waits for me awake in the evening and knowing it changes my day: even if I sleep very little, I wake up early in the morning to have breakfast with her, before she goes to work. These are key moments that I would never give up and for which I feel lucky. A chef does not reach the peak of his career when he gets one or 3 Michelin stars in the restaurant where he cooks, but when someone, eating one of his dishes among a hundred others, recognizes it.


This is Antonio Gentile, an incredibly simple and talented guy, a professional who discovered cooking by chance, who would make aperitifs on the beach and travel the world like anyone, but who then finds his world in that kitchen where he leads a brigade that praises in no uncertain terms. It must be fortunate to be guided by those who know the simplicity of a formal but deeply human path. If you are looking for it, you can find it in Ostia at Red Fish , in its Genovese with ravioli of white beef ragù, beer base and parmesan sauce; in his Naples 2.0 with Lagano spaghetti and zucchini, anchovies from Cetara, provolone del Monaco and Neapolitan tarallo; in his Eliche of the Pastificio dei Campi with sea urchins, cooked in chicken broth alla cacciatora.

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