Mattia Chiai is the newly appointed chef de cuisine at Verso, an exquisite Italian trattoria located within the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi. In this exclusive interview, we find out more about his experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants and what makes him so passionate about Italian cuisine.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Food has always played an essential role in my life. My passion for cooking was ignited at an early age. Indeed, I frequently joined my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. There, I absorbed knowledge about ingredients, various culinary techniques and countless stories about family traditions being passed down through generations. Additionally, I spent significant time with my father on our farm, where we frequented farmers’ markets. This deepened my understanding of different produce. I’ve always viewed cooking as a form of art and considered food an expression of love. However, my perspective shifted when I enrolled in culinary school. Today, I believe that food is a beautiful amalgamation of both artistic expression and scientific precision.
What challenges did you face when you decided to work at Verso Hyatt?
Every obstacle presents an opportunity for personal development. Transitioning from Saudi Arabia to Abu Dhabi brought a different experience. Saudi Arabia had a different market and climate, impacting the availability of produce and ingredients. However, my move to Abu Dhabi has provided me with the opportunity to craft seasonal menus. Until now, I’ve had the privilege of working in four Michelin-starred restaurants and numerous standalone establishments. Nevertheless, my role at Verso in the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi marks my first venture into the hotel industry. This shift brings with it a multitude of differences, ranging from procurement protocols to the intricacies of the customer experience.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
What truly captivates me about being a chef is the opportunity for constant experimentation. Each day brings fresh challenges and new lessons, with ingredients that are like puzzle pieces waiting to be crafted into a masterpiece. This creative freedom and innovation are incredibly enthralling. At the core of my passion is ensuring customer satisfaction. The profound happiness I experience when a diner leaves my restaurant with a beaming smile is unparalleled. As I mentioned earlier, my culinary journey has taken me to various cities around the world. Therefore, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a range of restaurants, from seafood establishments to fusion venues. However, what holds a special place in my heart is the simplicity and authenticity of the cuisine. I get immense pleasure from the art of slow cooking and crafting fresh pastas. This constant exploration of different pasta cooking techniques is something I really enjoy.
As you continue to grow both personally and professionally, what do you hope to achieve in the next phase of your career?
My aspiration is to accumulate a wealth of experiences by working in various cities and exploring different countries. I find great value in understanding traditional cooking methods, even in Italian cuisine, where ingredient availability depends on the place. My goal is to consistently deliver an authentic taste using available ingredients. While I am eager to continue gaining industry experience, I hold a long-term dream of eventually owning my own family-style restaurant. I envision a future where I can share the food I love with people in a restaurant of my own creation.