As Chiang Mai’s food lovers’ palates become more sophisticated and discerning, the mark of a successful restaurant is in its refusal to rest on its laurels. And Le Meridien’s award-winning Favola Italian Restaurant continues to evolve and position itself to engage and draw Chiang Mai’s resident as well as visiting diners.
Favola recently welcomed new Chef de Cuisine Enrico Pantorno who hails from Sicily but has spent the majority of his career working in kitchens and dining at restaurants around the world. Young, bursting with energy and with a fresh outlook to dining, Chef Enrico has invigorated Favola’s menu and service, aiming to appeal to a much wider range of diners.
Chef Enrico started his career at the front of house as a restaurant manager, and it is his focus on impeccable service and eye for every single detail, that will make a great initial impression on diners – no fork or knife is misaligned nor a drop of water (or gasp! wine) marring the service.
“I was always fascinated by the kitchen,” Chef Enrico told Citylife, “but I never had the opportunity nor any formal training. One Saturday, however, the head chef at our restaurant couldn’t come in and no one else was confident enough to run service. I had been cooking all my life, but never professionally, so I stepped in and simply fell in love. The service ran smoothly and I knew that I had found my calling.”
Chef Enrico soon joined an amateur cooking class, the only man amongst a group of housewives, and ended up becoming friends with the young teacher, who took him under his wing and mentored him. “I love theory, so all through those years of training, working and learning, I would read every book I could find on cooking,” he said. “I soon dared to leave the front and head into the kitchen and began to send letters out for any job openings I could find. It was only two years after I had first worked in the kitchen that I got a phone call from Dubai and the next thing I knew I was working as chef de partie in an Italian kitchen in Dubai Marina. It was the first time I really saw how a large and professional kitchen was run and I was so impressed. Everything was immaculate and had its place, the kitchen ran seamlessly.”
At that point, however, Chef Enrico had yet to have ever had a job interview, so after a few years in Dubai, he thought it would be interesting to try one out when he heard of an opening at an airline.
“I was shocked when I arrived,” he said, “there were 300 chefs applying for the job and we were all there for a one day workshop and interview. The first round was simply a nail inspection, and many chefs were culled in that round and all the rounds following, which involved all sorts of things from role playing to cooking. By the end of the day there were fifteen of us left and a few days later I got a phone call from Etihad Airways and was offered the job as the chef for their first class. I spent the next few years flying around the world and would go to visit the best restaurants at each stop, meeting the greatest chefs. Some of these chefs became my mentors as I visited them as frequently as I could, in an effort to learn and practice and absorb.”
Chef Enrico also met his Thai wife during those years. Deciding to seek more challenge in the workplace, the couple eventually moved to Denmark where Chef Enrico was offered a job at one of Denmark’s finest restaurants. Their time there was short-lived, as when he heard about the job opening at Le Meridien Chiang Mai, the idea of living in his wife’s home country intrigued him enough to make a phone call. It was his best phone interview to date, and within months the pair relocated.
“I like an intuitive kitchen,” said Chef Enrico of his cooking ethos. “A clean chef is a good chef and I like things to be run smartly and efficiently. So I have been working hard with the team to streamline the kitchen. I also only trust my own taste buds, so I taste everything before it is served. We make all of our own pasta and sauces and it is all very personal, almost like home cooking, but at restaurant standards.”
Chef Enrico spent the first month at Favola talking to its regular customers, listening and learning. It was these conversations as well as his visits to the plethora of farmers and sources of produce that shaped the direction he has decided to take Favola.
“I learned that today’s diners like things lighter and healthier,” he explained about the new menu. “Of course we keep the classics such as lasagna and the lobster bisque, but we update it to suite the modern palate. We use less cream, heavy sauces and flour and try to dial back to the purity of the ingredients. The lobster bisque is exquisite here, so why dilute it with bechamel? We also have added more vegan and vegetarian options, as they now form a larger group of diners, and it is very important to be inclusive. I have also focused on seafood dishes, offering fresh, light, colourful dishes which look just as good as they taste.”
Chef Enrico has been amazed at the local produce, saying that he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what is available in and around Chiang Mai.
“There is one organic lettuce farm I went to which uses crayfish to clean the system,” he said excitedly, as three royal blue crayfish, virtually throbbing with freshness arrives for a show-and-tell at our table. “You get incredible organic lettuce but the by-product is delicious crayfish too. So that is what I am about. Why do many chefs use imported mussels when Thai mussels are great? The same with oysters, baby free range chicken, cheeses and so many other produce. ”
Chef Enrico’s Favola is repositioning itself to serve more Mediterranean-inspired Italian cuisine. The prices have also been adjusted, possible through the use of more local produce, to be affordable to more people.
Whether it is an appetiser of warm seafood salad cooked in a glass jar, dramatically served with the wafting aromas of smoke and infused with fresh zesty flavours, a homemade melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi served simply with tomato gratin, fresh mozzarella and parmesan, the baked fresh local crayfish wrapped in lardo and served on asparagus veloute, or the piece de resistance, the chocolate lava cake oozing salted caramel served with freshly made vanilla icecream, these well-balanced and delicious dishes should satisfy all food lovers.
Chef Enrico is not shy and retiring and enjoys nothing better than talking about his food and getting to know his guests, so next time you are in the mood for a superb meal, whether it’s a romantic evening a deux, a gathering of family and friends, or to mark a special occasion, check out the newly revamped Favola.
Le Meridien, Chang Klan Road
Open 5 – 11pm
Tel. 053 253 299