A native of the Italian region of Puglia, Pasquale's life's mission is to share the long-forgotten, centuries-old recipes of Southern Italy with those he feeds. And as a food and hospitality artisan, Pasquale has spent the last 22 years emphasizing the importance of his country's traditional Mediterranean diet’s health benefits - from its rich organic, bio-agriculture, and wild, sustainable fishing, to the farmers’ respect for the land and its seasons.
Once in New York City, Pasquale worked with internationally renowned chefs such as Alain Ducas at Manhattan's prestigious Benoit and Jean George Vongerichten's Steakhouse. Developing menus and overseeing the culinary operations for these upscale restaurants served as a precursor for launching his exclusive private chef and hospitality company.
Graduating from the hotel and culinary institute at the IPSSAR "Armando Perotti" (Bari) and IPSSEOA "Consuls Pinto" (Castellana Grotte, BA) in 1990, Pasquale believes both programs were integral in establishing a foundation for appreciating the science of food and the art of hospitality.
Pasquale believes that hospitality stretches beyond the food - it's more than just meeting a guest's expectations or needs, it is truly an opportunity to create an environment of happiness and an opportunity to educate. Pasquale is a true champion of combining the importance of sustainable cuisine and nutrition, educating his audiences and advocating for greater youth education around food.
Thank you and welcome Pasquale to the Chefs for Impact community!
By Pasquale Martinelli as told to Chefs for Impact
Interviewed by Theodora Fontas
What does eating sustainably mean to you?
I was raised in Puglia. My parents were farmers on one side, and on the other side of my family, they were fishermen. So, sustainability meant, my father would bring home the fruits and vegetables that he was growing , and my mother would then sell part of this produce from our doorstep. Everything was local. So we didn't have to buy anything out of season, and it was the same thing with the fish. Whatever the boats would catch would be our dinner or we’d freeze it to use on days there was bad weather.
Anything we could use in the kitchen, we would use to the max. In other words, if for a certain dish, my mom only used the flower of whatever vegetable, then with whatever was leftover she would come up with a different dish. It was practically zero waste. In other words, sustainability for me is minimizing waste in every aspect of our lives as much as possible. If we can apply this philosophy, we don't have to buy food in excess. If we think of a kitchen as a laboratory and in a laboratory, we can invent and create, why not at least try to come up with some new dish, just so we don't waste what we have.
The funny thing is that based on the world health organization, there are actually more people dying from being overweight than underweight. Basically, we are using our resources poorly, just because we are not thinking, or because we don't have the knowledge. So that's how I see sustainability, beginning from an idea of how we can not waste what we have.
What do you think that the Mediterranean diet can teach us? Not only about sustainability, but about health?
What makes the Mediterranean diet very successful is that it is a lifestyle. The first element is the type of fats that we use, which are a monounsaturated fat, the extra Virgin olive oil.
Then we have carbohydrates, the main source of energy for our brain. They way I grew up, every Monday we ate legumes. But not just my family, I am talking about everyone in town. If you walk through the streets, you have the smell of beans, chickpeas. We had legumes with pasta but the quantities are extremely important. My mom would make lentils, but with a little bit of pasta, mostly because we needed just enough to allow ourselves to stretch out our energy for the rest of the day because we were going back to work.
For lunch, we have pasta. Then we have a main course, the animal protein usually, then we have the vegetables, and then we have the fruit at the end as the cap for our leptin.
And the pasta is always cooked al dente. Now let's ask ourselves, why do this al dente? It's not just a pleasure for our palette. It's actually a mechanism that allows us to chew slower, and to allow our bodies a slower absorption of the sugars. And then we eat the protein that we need to fill ourselves up.
So it's not only what food we eat, but where we place certain types of food during the day.
This is why in the Mediterranean diet, our dinner is very light and most of the time it comes from the leftovers from lunch. So we don't buy anything else. We don't waste anything.
Think about all this together with the fact that we eat pretty much on average five times a day. We're hungry every two, three hours. We are talking about 1600 times a year that we have to eat. We cant just eat whatever comes to our mind. There has to be a little bit of guidance that has to be right. A little bit of structure, especially in a country like the United States, where there is no model.
Every bite goes somewhere and as it goes somewhere it is going to come out from somewhere in some form of energy. So if we eat crap, we, the day after we will be thinking crap. We are disconnected. We need more places where you can actually come back from work and call and order something where you can nourish yourself. The idea is to make an impact by changing the way people view food, beginning from the school. Only knowledge can change this.
Because you're a private chef, you own your own business, do you feel like you're able to educate people much more freely and easily in that setting versus being at a traditional restaurant?
If I had a restaurant, it would be faster for me because of my ideology. Nothing less than passion can help you overcome the barrier of people thinking a different way. So with my work, my audience is much smaller, because my dinners are between eight and twenty people, max.
I'm there, not only to cook, but to bring them on a journey, a culinary journey based on my upbringing in Puglia and hospitality concepts.
As long as you have a vision and, and ideology of what you really want to do it can work. If you are there for the money, it's not going to happen.
For example, if someone is not ready to try a different dish that they have never heard of before, you need patience. You need to describe the dish properly. Because then the expectation of taste kicks in. If the customer is thinking or expecting certain preconceived things, they’re not going to like it. If I don't set you up with the expectations, it will be harder for me to make you like the dish. I'm not saying that if I explain the origins or history of a dish you're definitely going to like it, but there is definitely a 50% chance.
We need to instill an environment of happiness, period. If we can do this, we can definitely choose better ingredients. Why do I want a peach in December? You know, if it doesn't make me feel good, how can I possibly make you feel good? Unless if what makes me feel good is money, and I don't care whether it's December, August, it’s going to bring me money. I have the best peaches coming from Patagonia, from Argentina, but $25 for two peaches, you know?
We can't only think about food as something to eat. We have to think what impact the food will have on the individual and on the society. So we need to eat the food properly. It's not easy, but we have to put an effort into it. If we begin from the children, the children are going to be the teachers of the adults, not the other way around.
What is your biggest hope for the future?
That every school in the country has a garden and a nutrition program. But that also means that before the school can have that, everyone in the school has to have proper food and nutrition training.
Change begins from the young people. And our job is to give them the opportunity to do better than we did basically. This is progress.
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