Journey To The Stars: What It Takes To Be A Michelin Star Restaurant Ft. Chef Denis Lucchi

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Photograph: Buona Terra

Growing up as a distracted, high energy kid, Denis Lucchi was never inclined toward academics. But seeing his grandmum cook, the warm aroma gently spreading around the house, while she served him his lunch and dinner, inspired him to try culinary school. He began to enjoy it. And more so when he started working in various restaurants during his summer holidays. “I fell in love with all of it–the pressure of work in the kitchen, the kind of food being prepared, and even the long working hours. I had to give up many things at a young age but I was okay with it. Food was something that really interested me,” shares the chef as he talks about how he developed a liking for the culinary scene. 

Denis Lucchi
Chef Denis Lucchi

After working in premium restaurants in London & Rome and working alongside celebrated chefs at a Michelin-starred restaurant in his home region in Italy, chef Denis moved to Singapore about 14 years ago and went straight into the kitchens of some of the island country’s renowned Italian restaurants like Gattopardo and Garibaldi. Eventually, the chef felt it was time to express himself through his food. That’s when he decided to open his first Singapore-based Italian restaurant Buona Terra, which seeks to explore the nuances and complexities of Italian cuisine, pushing the envelope with contemporary techniques while preserving its core traditions. His efforts were rewarded with the coveted Michelin star in 2019, putting him on the global culinary map.

Denis Lucchi

Thanks to the world opening up, you need not go to another country to experience its culinary landscape. International chefs are making their cuisine accessible to you by visiting your city itself. And Denis Lucchi is doing the same. The chef along with Wine Maker Basile Guibert of Moulin de Gassac is in India for a two-city tour. The duo are all set to be curating dinners at Celini, Grand Hyatt Mumbai today and later, at The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore on November 10. 

Ahead of his dinner today, the chef tells us all about his journey to the stars and more. 

ELLE: What does it take to be a Michelin Star restaurant?

Denis Lucchi (DL): For us, this has been an achievement after six years. We got it in 2019. For an existing restaurant to be promoted to a Michelin star, I believe the inspector saw our improvement in what we’re trying to do and achieve in the restaurant. As a chef, you need to put your identity while using the best ingredient, move in the right direction without any compromise, and go in that direction with maximum of your focus. That’s what I did. 

ELLE: You never know when a Michelin inspector comes visiting your restaurant. So when they do, and if they like your food and think it’s worthy of the reward, you end up getting a call. Is this how the process went for you too? How did that go?

DL: During the year, somebody will come to inspect your restaurant. For us, we had an inspector that came in the previous year. But in the same year we got the star, the inspector came and didn’t introduce himself. He just ate and left and came back after 2 days. He then introduced himself and gave us a detailed questionnaire to fill up. We have to add details about the chef, the manager, the working time, the reference number to book, the price of the dishes, etc. After that, we didn’t have anyone from Michelin come over. We had some suspicious people in our dining room, but we will never know. Normally, if you were to receive a star, you will receive an email or letter inviting you to the awards dinner. The invitation would come a week or ten days before the revelation of the awards. And once they invite you to dinner, you don’t know what’s going to be your awards, whether it’s one, two, or three stars until you are there. But if you have an invitation, something good will happen.

ELLE: What is the most important thing about being a Michelin-starred chef? Is it seen as a form of recognition in the industry or is it about the validation that you get from it?

DL: To be honest, being a Michelin Star chef was sort of my dream. It is a recognition you would like to achieve in the culinary field but it was never a goal for the team or my restaurant. It’s more like a consequence of what we are doing. So, we are not doing well because we want a star, we received the star because we are doing well. This is the most important thing to start with, and then after that, of course, having a star, first of all, gives more expectation to the customer; they’re coming to your restaurant because you have a star. So you have to keep your standards very high because the expectations are higher than before. Being a Michelin-starred restaurant and a Michelin-starred chef is also a form of recognition, definitely, because people will talk to you or about you as a Michelin-star chef. But the main thing for me is having the restaurant food be good for the customers I feed. But definitely, it is a good feeling.

ELLE: Do you feel more pressure after getting a Michelin Star?

DL: Definitely, there is more pressure. People who say there’s no pressure are lying. And this pressure is simply because the expectation of the customer has raised a lot. If the customer visits the restaurant before you have the star, maybe they don’t judge you that much or they judge you only based on the price at which you’re selling your food. Now they judge you based on the fact that you have a Michelin star. So definitely the pressure is on, and of course, you would like to maintain it or maybe try to make it double, so you have to work hard with the team and make sure that every single detail is perfect year after year. So that you can keep the same award if not make it bigger. 

ELLE: What goes into maintaining the quality and consistency of the dishes served?

DL: The ingredient is probably the main part of what we are doing, as well as, of course, the preparation in the kitchen. So everything for us starts with very strong research of ingredients, and we work very closely with our supplier because Singapore doesn’t have many in-house high-quality ingredients to grow. Everything is almost imported. We work very closely with our supplier to import all the best ingredients we can find. We’re trying to find the best way to cook with the best technique and let the product speak for itself.

ELLE: Tell us about the menu that you’re serving in Mumbai today.

DL: The food I’m preparing is a mixture of flavour and texture that incorporate some vegetarian dish, fish, meat, and of course a risotto since I’m from the north of Italy. I will bring my Italian heritage to India and deliver flavours that are purely from my country giving an escalation of flavours from mild to stronger to pair with the beautiful wine during the dinner. 

ELLE: What are your future plans?

DL: We are trying to expand next year. We want to open a restaurant that is a little bit more casual because we realised that a lot of people that come to Buona Terra are in love with comfort food (like pasta) or food that is not so elaborate or gourmet. So we already have space on the second level of Buona Terra that we are using as a private dinners for our regular customers who want to come and enjoy, and drink some wine, have comfort food without too much elaboration. So we’re going to open some new outlets, maybe for casual food, and probably another outlet overseas.

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