“You cannot have innovation if you don’t know tradition,” says Chef Enrico Cerea, 53, who helms Fratelli at Resorts World Sentosa with his younger brother, Chef Roberto, 45.
“Otherwise, you don’t make fusion; you make confusion,” he adds with a laugh.
The siblings co-own three Michelin-starred restaurant Da Vittorio in Italy.
At Fratelli, the brothers enjoy the creative freedom of experimenting with new and unconventional ingredients, but they are mindful not to deviate too much from traditional Italian cooking, which they are very proud of.
The celebrity chefs recently included three pasta dishes from Da Vittorio, passed down the years from their father, in the Fratelli menu.
One of them is pasta chitarra, a square spaghetti that originates from the Abruzzo region in central Italy, served with braised beef short ribs ragout and black truffle shavings. The dish has been a staple in Da Vittorio since the beginning.
The other dish, which they consider the best, is the paccheri alla Vittorio, from a recipe that was created 40 years ago. It is a thick-tube tangy pasta dish made with three types of tomatoes and young parmesan that are mixed until creamy.
The last dish is ravioli filled with ricotta and smoked Scamorza cheese caprese style.
Da Vittorio was established in 1966 in Bergamo, Italy, by their parents Vittorio and Bruna Cerea. Vittorio was the cook and Bruna the pastry chef.
The family patriarch put fish on the menu to stand out from the competition, an unusual move as people in the inland city were not accustomed to eating it, with transport links from the sea to inland cities not well-established at that time.
The huge risk paid off as the response was overwhelming. Da Vittorio became famous for its Italian haute cuisine, and eventually received its first Michelin star in 1978, and the second in 1996.
The drive for excellence and innovation continues with Chef Enrico and Chef Roberto eventually taking over the restaurant.
During their adolescence, they were taught to embrace, and keep, tradition alive, while honing their culinary skills in Da Vittorio’s kitchen.
So while most 11- and 12-year-old boys hung out with their friends after school, the brothers would be, rather unwillingly, busy peeling potatoes or washing vegetables.
In fact, their kitchen duties in the first two years were confined to cleaning and washing duties, peeling prawns and cleaning fish, as well as setting tables.
“But after a few years, we came to understand that our whole life is about cooking. Real life began in the restaurant after school,” says Chef Roberto.
They were around 14 when they finally got to cook their first pasta dish. Even preparing a simple spaghetti dish with shellfish and tomato sauce made them feel like they had achieved a goal.
“When you understand the work that you do is to arouse emotions in your guests through your dishes, you start to appreciate it. You develop the love for your work and it becomes a duty,” says Chef Enrico.
Beyond culinary expertise
Working at Da Vittorio taught the brothers more than just culinary techniques. They also learnt to constantly put in maximum effort and provide top-notch hospitality to guests.
When they turned 18, they left Italy for culinary school and trained in top restaurants in Europe and the United States. Chef Enrico has since undergone training with restaurateur Sirio Maccioni in New York, Italian chef Heinz Winkler in Munich, Germany, and chef Ferran Adria of elBulli in Catalonia, Spain.
But, he says, the best school was still their parents’ restaurant.
“Our father was the best teacher. Not just of food, but of life, which is much more important than the job. He taught us that if you are right in life, you will be right in your job,” he says.
The most important lesson he learnt from his father was respect.
“Respect for yourself, for your guests and for everyone,” he says.
Their hard work culminated in the restaurant’s third Michelin star in 2010, five years after their father’s death, which they dedicated it to him.
“It was a fantastic moment and the coronation of a dream. This achievement is very important to us,” says Chef Enrico.
Last year also marked the 50th anniversary of Da Vittorio and to commemorate the occasion, all five Cerea siblings dedicated a cake, La Gioconda, to their mother, who was known for her baking prowess.
The leavened cake is made with natural yeast, dark chocolate, hazelnut chocolate cream, hazelnut praline paste and candied orange peel — and the best part is, the delicious creation is available at Fratelli.
The brothers visit Singapore every four to six months to update the menu with Chef de Cuisine Davide Bizzarri, and they also make it a point to talk to all the guests to explain the unique elements of each dish.
Apart from sharing recipes, they teach the staff the right mentality and culture of working too, which Chef Roberto says is more important than the recipes.
On other must-tries at Fratelli, the brothers recommend the Instagram-worthy and Venetian-inspired Pizza Oro Nero, laden with cured cod fish, white clams, Sicilian mussels, trout roe and dusted with opulent gold powder.
Available seasonally is the Milanese veal cutlet, which is shallow, fried in clarified butter till aromatic, served with tomatoes and potato slices.
Not to be missed is Rossella’s strawberry planet, a dramatic dessert that ends off the meal with a melange of strawberry textures.
As their business continues to grow, the brothers wonder if their kids would want to continue the family legacy of serving fine Italian cuisine. But for now, their focus is to innovate while keeping their culinary heritage alive at Fratelli.
Visit Fratelli at Resorts World Sentosa, 26 Sentosa Gateway, Hotel Michael, #02-144 & 145. Tel: (6577-6555)