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Meeting with Mario Musoni, the “cook-surfer”

Meeting with Mario Musoni, the “cook-surfer”

“There were four friends at the bar, except the bars were scattered around the 4 corners of the globe”.

Interview by Anita Lissona

That’s how Mario Musoni, one of the founders of the GVCI (Italian Virtual Cooks Group), describes the beginning of the groups which now has 1,800 Italian restaurant-owners all over the world as members, whose mission is to promote good Italian food to a wide range of people and cultures. “Internet was just beginning here in Italy and I was in Pavia, Mario Caramella was in Hong Kong, Alberto Gianati was in Puerto Rico and Rosario Scarpato was in Sydney [all internationally famous chefs – ed.] and we used to chat and dream. That dream led to the creation of a phenomenon which has been really important for Italian cuisine”.

Mario Musoni is originally from San Zenone Po (Pavia), and began his career in the restaurant industry by travelling around Europe as a waiter, before becoming a head waiter and sommelier.  He met his wife Patricia in England in 1971, and they came back to Italy to focus on cooking.  In 1982 they opened the restaurant Al Pino di Montescano, which was awarded a Michelin star in 1987.

We asked Mario Musoni, who is stopping over in Italy before heading off again on new adventures as a “cook-surfer”, to talk about himself and tell us how his work as a real ambassador of Italian cuisine around the world began.

M.M.: “It was the end of the 190s and I was in charge at Al Pino di Montescano but I was starting to feel a bit hemmed in.  I was invited by Mario Caramella, while he was visiting his mother in Casteggio, near me, to go to Hong Kong and do some promotional work for cooking from Lombardy. I never really stopped and ended up travelling the length and breadth of China, even as far as the Mongolian border, and I travelled and cooked all over the place, from Singapore to the USA, South and Central America, Great Britain and the rest of Europe. Then my work was enriched by a collaboration project with Alma, the International School of Italian Cooking, and together we opened lots of cookery schools abroad.  We had a lot of support from the Foreign Trade Institute, which was involved in lots of group events at the time, with cooking shows, tasting sessions and meetings, where Italian cooking was greatly appreciated. One very clear way of showing what we have achieved is to point out that in lots of top international 4 or 5 star luxury hotels where our  exhibitions are held, the top restaurants, which all used to be French, are now nearly always Italian today”.

A.L: “We know that one of the symbols of your cooking, as a kind of trademark, is Pistachio Gelato with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – how did you come up with such an original dish?”

M.M.: “With creativity at the same time as respect for the raw materials, which are always strictly Italian – I have to remember that the great results that Italian cuisine has obtained all over the world would not have been possible without the contribution and support of the top brands of Italian food products.  Starting with the products which are viewed as the symbols of our style of eating – pasta, oil, tomatoes and gelato too. A particularly special mention should go to Fabbri 1905, for example, which has always supported us. It’s a brand which represents Italy, Tradition and Goodness abroad, but also Innovation.  In China, Fabbri Amarenas are legendary and my own Pistachio Gelato with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil would not be possible without the availability of the marvelous pure pistachio paste, made with Bronte pistachios of course, that Fabbri 1905 guarantees as an intact, safe ingredient all over the world”.

A.L.: “Do you think you could give us the recipe?”

M.M.:“It’s really easy – use a scoop of handmade gelato made with eggs, milk, sugar, and the Pistachio Delipaste, and serve it with a little bottle of olive oil.  The customers look a bit bewildered at first, then they take their first cautious mouthful and soon they’re asking for second helpings. Today loads of my “pupils” offer this dessert in restaurants all over the world”.

A.L.: “It sounds simple and delicious, just like Nutty, Fabbri’s latest “discovery”, which is already being talked about a lot by professionals in the sector, who will have a chance to get to know the product better at the next edition of Sigep”.

M.M.: “Yes, I’ve heard about it – it sounds like such a great new product, because Italian cooks who work far away from Italy, like me, will have access to two fantastic ingredients – hazelnut and chocolate, in a really versatile format. It will be really easy to make traditional or new flavors of gelato [such as Bread and Nutty, which will be launched at Sigep – ed.] that might be able to topple Tiramisù from its position as the top typical Italian dessert. 

A.L.: “Your work focuses on cultural promotion but it can also have a significant impact when it comes to helping our products to achieve success in foreign markets.  Do you have any statistics as far as this is concerned?”

M.M. “In the last 10 years, we’ve seen an increase of 30% when it comes to exports of our food products. That’s really not bad at all, especially as it means we’re also exporting great taste and good health.  I really think the world has understood that Italian cooking is fun, healthy and delicious”.

Milan, 23 November 2012