Chef’s Special: Carina Contini Director of Contini restaurants

Carina and Victor Contini own Contini on George Street, the Scottish Cafe & Restaurant at the Scottish National Gallery and Cannonball Restaurant & Bar on the Royal Mile. Majoring in fresh Italian and Scottish ingredients, the company’s food philosophy is ‘happy food’ – that which has been “simply prepared, sustainably produced and is then leisurely and enjoyably shared”.

How long have you been in the industry and how did you start?

It may be unbelievable but I was almost born in an ice cream kiosk in the third car park down the Bents in Longniddry, so you could say my whole life.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Being able to work with my darling husband, Victor. His energy and enthusiasm and love of looking after everyone is unique. We’ve had our moments but working together makes it far more fun.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Learning to manage my own energy.  I’m so driven by perfection, it’s hard when you don’t get it right all the time. I’ve learnt to be more trusting with our team and guess what – they are far better than me.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

We are Italian Scots and reflect this in our venues. Contini George Street is Italian but with some of the best Scottish beef, pork, shellfish and fish we can get our hands on. The Scottish Cafe is Scottish but by concentrating on provenance we bring in our Italian heritage. Cannonball Restaurant is a beautiful venue in a stunning setting with beautiful food. Oh, but so is The Scottish Cafe and Contini George Street – we’re very lucky.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

Eyemouth lobster.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?

It used to be lobster thermidor, but as I get older I find it a bit heavy, so boiled langoustine with homemade mayonnaise is my ultimate treat.

Is there any food you dislike?

I hate truffles and mushrooms. Victor adores them.

What’s your favourite wine?

I don’t drink much, however nothing beats a glass of crisp Champagne. My niece has just started making wine – Maturano – an indigenous grape variety from our region in Lazio. It’s made with love. She’s such a sweetie and only in her 20s so this will have to be my new favourite. Victor helped pick this year’s harvest so we’re so looking forward to tasting the wine next year. Salute!

What makes a good chef?

Patience and a love of feeding people.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

Buy the best you can and never compromise on cold pressed olive oil. Life is too short.

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?

Victor. Seriously, I cook at home with music blaring. It’s either something Italian from the 1950s or Motown.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

Roy Brett. I love eating in Ondine – an independent restaurant that doesn’t compromise and only chooses the best. And there is always a wee glass of Champagne on hand so you can’t go wrong.

How do you relax outside of work?

I love travelling. Hopefully, with my children getting older, we can start the adventures again.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had and where was it?

My favourite restaurant is probably a bit of a tourist trap in Naples. It’s call Zia Teresa. My grandmother used to eat there, my father ate there and I’ve had the joy of eating there with my family several times. I love it.

Who would you invite for your ideal meal and where would you go?

Antonio Pappano. I’ve told Victor that I’ve got a soft spot for him. He is a second generation Italian whose father was a music teacher but ran a restaurant in England in the ‘50s or ‘60s. I’m tone deaf but he can describe the most challenging enigmatic opera or piece of music and make you fall in love with it. Along with him, I would invite my seven brothers and sisters. On second thoughts that might be a bad idea – Antonio wouldn’t get a word in edgeways.