We chat to Nicola Batavia – head chef at the world-renowned L Birichin restaurant in Turin which is well known for its tasting menus.
What inspired you to start cooking?
Watching my mum baking bread and playing with semolina to make pasta. That was when I realized, that’s it, this is my life. You can now find my mum at my restaurant! Travelling was also a big inspiration for me.
Did you have any exciting culinary experiences on your travels?
Once when I was on holiday in Thailand, I found myself involved in a cooking competition with 5-6 local chefs, with a local mute lady as my helper. You could only use ingredients found in a very short time at the local market. I made dough with water, flour, scorpions and lemongrass. Then I put king prawns inside a banana leaf, together with coconut milk and ginger, and served it with a tomato and Tabasco sauce. It was an incredibly entertaining and enriching experience, and let’s not forget, I gained 2nd place!
Have you met any famous people during your career?
I’ve met the Agnelli family, Princess Diana, Elton John, Madonna, Pavarotti and several other members of the European aristocracy and media personalities to mention but a few.
What really drives a chef crazy?
Your creative mind talking out loud! Sometime late at night while I m reading or just resting, I come up with a new dish. Sometimes I dream a strange combination. I have a recorder close to my bed, just in case!
What is the biggest achievement to date in your career?
Organising Nike’s sponsored restaurant for the VIPs during the Beijing Olympic Games and writing my book, ‘Chef & Gourmet’. I’m also proud to have created some recipes for major Italian brands.
What is your signature dish?
The ‘Vitello Tonnato.’ – a traditional Italian dish of chilled, sliced veal with a tuna and caper sauce. I vary the recipe each year.
Which ingredients would you take to a desert island?
Bread, my mother’s grissini, and lots of Nutella to dip them in!
Do you have a simple recipe you would like to share?
To make my classic bruschetta, simply slice warm bread (in the restaurant I use the one my mum prepares everyday) and top with fresh diced tomatoes, ideally the San Marzano variety from Campania. Drizzle with extra virgin oil (I use my own, which is produced in Umbria) and sprinkle with fresh basil and a little salt.
What should a visitor see in Turin?
Turin is best known as an industrial city and the home of FIAT, however, with 40 museums, it’s also a big cultural centre. The Egyptian museum (Museo Egizio) is the second biggest in the world after the one in Cairo. The Mole Antonelliana is the tallest building in Turin and a definite must, and don’t forget, the city is also the capital of chocolate, with a fair on the sublime product held each spring.
If you’re visiting Turin this spring, book a table at Nicola’s restaurant, L Birichin, before April 30th and you can enjoy a four-course tasting menu, including a vodka cocktail, for just €50. Book now or click here for more Michelin starred restaurants in Italy.
(Thanks to Paolo Picciotto for the photo.)