Meet The Expert: Giovanni Parrella
Napoli-born chef Giovanni Parrella has worked for 14 years with the Hyatt Group in some of the world’s most interesting food cultures.
In Istanbul, Mumbai and Beijing. His strong spirited father, who then owned a large construction company with 300 staff, had planned for his son Giovanni to take over. Back in those days, especially in the south of Italy, a child rarely went against the elder’s will. With courage and conviction, Giovanni thought otherwise and began working in the kitchen of a Napoli restaurant. He began work 6 a.m. every day at age 12, and he has been in the industry ever since.
For the last four years, he has been Executive Chef of one the city’s most luxurious 5 star hotels - The Reverie Saigon. As an Italian man, he lives up to his reputation as a man for love, food and passion. The Reverie has four Italian, one French, thee from Hong Kong and three from mainland China, and several Vietnamese chefs. Their ethos are to always be there for their customers. “The most important things is to let the customers feel what we feel,” Giovanni says.
1. What venue at The Reverie is best suited to celebrate Valentine’s Day ?
We have three venues where customers can celebrate Valentine’s Day with their partners. One is the R&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant, the other is The Royal Pavilion and the last is Café Cardinal. Café Cardinal is our French Restaurant on the sixth floor, it offers comfort food by day. In the evening it’s a fine dining restaurant. The Royal Pavilion is our Chinese restaurant. But of course, I am Italian and so I would like to talk more about R&J Restaurant. This of course is all about Romeo and Juliet. A love story that oozes passion, fire and love. The restaurant is lit by candlelight. The food is superb.
We are only able to import 500 cheeses per month; this is the capacity of the small family firm that produce it. This is a superb product. It is also light, we don’t want our guests on Valentine’s Day to be so full that after they just want to go to sleep... the night is young.
2. What special menu do you envisage for Valentine’s Day?
Our special Valentine’s menu is intimate and romantic. We have Japanese scallops, served with apple compote, foie gras and balsamic vinegar. This is followed by a seafood soup.
I think keeping things relatively simple is the key. The next course is Tortelli, made with Burrata cheese, which we import. We are only able to import 500 cheeses per month; this is the capacity of the small family firm that produce it. This is a superb product. It is also light, we don’t want our guests on Valentine’s Day to be so full that after they just want to go to sleep... the night is young.
The main course is beef, served with rocket salad and ginger. This is so tasty, as well as being a good aphrodisiac.
Finally of course, the king of love is chocolate. We have Valrhona Chocolate, very high quality. We present a chocolate fondue, a simple expression of love shared. With strawberries and other fresh fruit, accompanied by heart shaped cookies.
3. What are the key elements of a successful romantic Dinner?
Ambience is the key. The table set up is so important, to express your love for your partner. Choose good music also. At The Reverie we make the table very romantic and also provide a gift for your lovely girl.
4. Why is food and love often so closely associated? Why is food a symbol of love?
It comes from our parents, particularly our mothers. The first food we have is breast milk, no more loving food could ever exist. It is about family. Family meals should always be together.
A symbol of love can be anything. In my own family we never eat outside the family dinner table until I was past 16 years old! Meaning I never got out in the evening with friends until then because food was on the table at home.
5. What are the best dishes for couples to share/eat together?
I will come back to chocolate again, using it in a pot as with fondue is a great symbol of shared love. It’s all about the sensual textures as well as the flavours. Symbolic foods are asparagus, caviar, chocolate or cocoa in general. For me it is chocolate, because it is sweet. Sweetness is added for special sweet occasions.
6. What do you like to prepare for your wife on romantic occasions?
If you are not a great cook, it can be simple if you do as I do with my own wife. When I want to make her happy, I always go with cheese and red wine with nuts, honey and dried fruit.
7. What's better, food or sex?
[. . . long pause . . .] I think it’s a difficult question [. . . long pause . . .] food is more important, you cannot live without it, and besides I can eat three times every day, nobody gets that much sex! But the relationship between the two is always there. My grandfather use to say, make sure your spouse knows how to cook. When I asked why he said, “The love will pass, the hunger will stay.” Of course he was joking, he was so proud of his wife. But the love and humour of their relationship always shone through.
8. Does your spouse’s skill in the kitchen affect the love in the relationship?
For me yes it definitely does.
My wife has been brought up in the old fashioned ways, from eight years of age she brought up her sisters. She is a chef also, she makes homemade breads, eggplant Parmigiana... wow! She is the best. For us it runs in the family.
I remember on Sundays as a boy, when we visited my grandmother. She used to cook so well, from 500 metres away we could smell the wood fire, the homemade bread and the beef ragout that had been cooking for maybe 6-12 hours.
9. What spices are aphrodisiacs?
Chilli and star anise, cinnamon and vanilla are reputedly aphrodisiacs.
10. What wine/food pairings are the most romantic?
For Vietnamese, bubbles and love are always together. They always want Champagne, whereas we traditionally think of Champagne for a celebration.
However, for love, I would personally go for a nice Amarone della Valpolicella.
Normally just known as Amarone, it’s a beautiful sensual rich Italian dry red wine, in my opinion a beautiful red wine.