Chef’s Special: Francesco Ascrizzi, head chef of Divino Enoteca, Edinburgh

Francesco Ascrizzi is head chef at Divino Enoteca in Edinburgh, part of the Vittoria Group. The restaurant brings Italian regional traditions to the Scottish capital, offering diners a menu of seasonal, fresh Italian cuisine.

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

I started really young by helping my grandmother in the kitchen, that’s when I discovered my passion for cooking. She gave me all the little tips and tricks only a grandma knows.

What’s your career highlight so far?

So far I’ve had the chance to work at Cecconi’s, one of the finest restaurants in London, and also to work alongside award-winning chefs in Scotland such as Mark Greenaway and Tony Borthwick. In the last few years, I also had the chance to work as head chef, leading my team at Divino Enoteca.

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

My biggest challenge was the language. I had very poor knowledge of the English language when I first moved to London and had to adapt quickly to that fast-paced environment. I also had to adapt my cooking style to the different ingredients and traditions I came across and that was a massive learning experience for me.

How would you describe your restaurant and your food?

I liked Divino at first sight. I was captured by the familiar and elegant atmosphere that reminded me of places back home. I was immediately inspired to create something peculiar yet traditional that usually is missing in the Italian restaurant abroad. Thanks to Tony Crolla [Divino owner], who gave me space to create and be myself, I had the chance to bring the Italian regional traditions to Edinburgh. I respect my origins and the simplicity of our dishes and always strive to enhance the taste of fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Describe your staff.

We are a good compact team, a nice mix of Italian and Polish chefs. Many of them have been working in Divino for a long time. After all these years we collaborate to improve recipes and menus.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

Scotland has a good variety of root vegetables, meat and fish, but my favourite ingredient is scallop.

What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?

I like the simplicity of Spaghetti aglio and olio, possibly the simplest dish
of the Italian kitchen. It is also my wife’s favourite and we like to add some toasted breadcrumbs to finish the dish with a touch of crunchy texture.

Is there any food you dislike?

I really don’t appreciate coriander, especially when it is in excess, but generally I like food and there is nothing in particular I dislike. I also like to try everything and I am very curious and open to ingredients and dishes from all over the world, especially Asia and South America.

What’s your favourite wine?

I like rich reds from the southern regions of Italy, especially Primitivo from Puglia. When I was younger, one of dad’s friends used to produce it and bring it to family dinners.

What makes a good chef?

Curiosity, respect for food, creativity, humbleness and the ability to share.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

If you dirty it, clean it. If you wet it, dry it. If you empty it, fill it. If you cook, share it. Be precise and punctual.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

I really appreciate Massimo Bottura for his originality and respect for his region and also because he is able to connect the art of food with all the other arts.

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

My top experience was in Malaysia where me and my wife were taken out for dinner by a local couple that made us discover their traditions. I especially liked the way they cooked and served pork belly and I loved the fact that it was a local street food stall full of local people.

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

I would take my wife to Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, to personally experience Massimo Bottura’s dishes.