Food

Chef Susy Massetti

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If we were to tell you that the beautiful Island of Bahrain is home to a renowned female Chef, with over 40 years culinary experience, with a published book, radio shows and TV shows under her belt, as well as being a personal Chef for Arab Royalty, would you be as surprised as we were?

Many of us have heard of Chef Susy Massetti and may have eaten at the two restaurants under her management, but how many of us really know of her journey that has brought her to Bahrain?   Habibti Magazine had the immense honour of sitting with Chef Susy over a delicious three-course meal to hear her amazing story.

Chef Susy was born and raised in Italy, Milano. Chef Susy was the third generation born into a family of cooks and chefs, as the family a restaurant, owned and run by Chef Susy’s grandmother.   As destiny would have it, Chef Susy was not only born into a family of cooks and the life of restaurants, but was also literally born in the restaurant, with her mother going into early labour while working in the restaurant kitchen.

Chef Susy recalls it was meant to be; ‘how can you do something else when you were born in the kitchen? I knew for the first nineteen years of my life that I wanted to be a chef. I loved what I saw growing up in that family restaurant.
It was a happy place for me; the kitchen particularly was a happy place. My aunties, my grandmother and my mother were all an integral part of that memory.
There was yelling, noises, smells; kids running around, the men were shooed out of the kitchen all the time. It was a modest homey restaurant.’

As well as a natural bond to the culinary arts, Chef Susy had a passion and deep interest in Art and Architecture, and studied at a school of art.
After getting married in 1974, Chef Susy left Milano and moved to Tuscany.
Her first husband came from a family of restaurateurs. The family was very well known with eight fine dining restaurants, with a high standard ‘White Jacket and Bow Tie’ service. To present day, most of them are still running and have maintained an incredible reputation.

For Chef Susy, it was another world; growing up with northern Italian and French, style of cuisine (as her grandmother was French); the cuisine typically included veal, butter, herbs and cream. From that, Tuscan cuisine was a stark contrast, which is typically about herbs, tomatoes, seafood and grills, roast.
‘I was so happy to learn about this other style of cuisine, to me it was another world opening up to me which was a fantastic experience’.

In Tuscany, Chef Susy bought a restaurant with her brother in Viareggio, a sea town, famous for shrimping and fishing, and second largest fleet of fishing boat in the Italian coast of the Mediterranean and famous for yacht making and ship yards. Both Chef Susy and her brother felt it was the right place, and they set up something that was completely new and different to what the village had had before; ‘we went into a pure “cuisine du terroir”; we were 30 years ahead of our time. It was a small team – my mother, my brother and myself. We had one waitress, one dishwasher and one cook. We made everything in house, from the bread and pasta, to the liquors. We bought all our fresh produce and ingredients from the local businesses’.

Eventually the family decided to sell the business and as word grew, Chef Susy was offered a job by one of her customers, however Chef Susy decided to delay her decision and opened a bed & breakfast in her Tuscan house.
Chef Susy says ‘I realised that it wasn’t for me. I became in some ways, a prisoner in my own house and was limited to making simple breakfasts, with the occasional lunch or dinner for guests. It became repetitive and boring. So I decided to accept the position on the private Yacht of a Spanish tycoon and it was the best decision I made. Because when you move out of your comfort zone you realise how little you know and how big the world is, how many different ingredients are out there you can discover and play with’.

Chef Susy worked with them for two and half years after which she came back to Italy for a very short period of time before accepting an invitation to run an Italian Restaurant in Georgia, USA. At the time there wasn’t an authentic Italian restaurant in the area so it was a great challenge as well as a pleasurable one; as Chef Susy recalls ‘I fell in love with the place, Georgia is beautiful, absolutely stunning.’

After three years, Chef Susy moved to another company and after a few more years in America, she was offered a job in Abu Dhabi. At the time, the job offer was a welcoming idea, to be in a safer family environment, in comparison to the West. Having said that, Dubai and Abu Dhabi weren’t part of the global scene like they are now, which left Chef Susy a little hesitant, but eventually took the offer.

After two and half years in Abu Dhabi, Chef Susy then came to Bahrain for two years, from 2007 until 2009 working as the Executive Chef at the Diplomat Radisson Blue. Chef Susy left for Dubai to work for Sheraton as Director of F&B.  Career wise, it was a great move for Chef Susy, but found the role too administrative and too hands-off. ‘I’m a people’s person, I like to be in the kitchen, this is what I do, and this is what I love’.

Chef Susy then went on to become the personal chef for the former Prime Minister of Qatar.   ‘But again, I live for day-to-day satisfaction, I live for the smile on people’s faces, I live for compliments. I was working for royalty and understandably, they were extremely busy, and food is a necessity and as such, not to be enjoyed with luxury of time. He did not have the time to eat with leisure or even savour the food. So again, even though I was extremely appreciative of the immense honour, I was not truly satisfied with my situation’.

So when Chef Susy was approached for the Masso & The Orangery project Chef Susy jumped at the chance and came back to Bahrain at the end of summer 2010, as Operation Manager for Masso and The Orangery and The Palace Boutique Hotel. ‘I’ve been here since, and I don’t intend to move. I love Bahrain! I fell in love with the Island, I fell in love with the people, I just love it here’.

Until recently, Chef Susy was Operation Manager for the whole property including the hotel, and has acquired a new General Manager for the Hotel, enabling Chef Susy to concentrate fully on the restaurants, ‘which is what I love and what I do best’.

Of one of her favourite achievements, Chef Susy talks of the organic garden at the property, ‘we developed our own organic garden at the property before the opening of the restaurants. It was a real challenge to grow produce in such a harsh climate and environment, with the type of soil and water but we did it’.

We caught up to present day and Habibti Magazine wanted to know more:
What is you favourite food memory?

‘My favourite food memory is the first time I cooked for my entire family.
I was fourteen, and at that time I was only allowed to peel peas and do other menial jobs. I had a very strong character and as a typical teenager, I thought I knew best. We used to close on Sundays and eat a Sunday meal together.

Every Sunday we would have a roast chicken meal. I can’t remember how many times I saw my mother cook this meal. So I prepared the roast, with salad and pasta, the kitchen was a huge mess! Stuff everywhere, pots, pans lying around, I almost burned the chicken, and the meal was late. But everyone loved it, I was so proud and said to my Grandmother, see I can do it, she said yes, now go and clean up the mess. Of course I didn’t, instead I sneaked out of the house to play with my friends. When I came back later, the kitchen was in the same exact condition I had left it in. And I got a clip on the head and I had to clean the whole kitchen. It taught me respect for the preparation and everything that goes into cooking a meal’.

Where do you get your inspiration?

‘From everywhere; the places I visit, my childhood, my travels, the markets, cities, people, food, books, TV, radio, Internet. I also admire certain chefs, for what they have achieved, their personal growth, their knowledge and techniques, rather than the dishes they create. For instance, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, David Chang. But my real inspirations are my mother and my grandmother, because from them I learned the respect of the job. I work as though I’m working for myself, I take ownership and I do my job proudly, I don’t clock in and clock out from 9 to 5, that’s what I learned.   And those two women could do anything from nothing, and that’s one of the things that I appreciated the most – the fact that you can open up a refrigerator and put together a beautiful meal.

What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?

Definitely seafood, followed by game, foul and meat followed by vegetables. I adore seafood, all forms and shapes, colours and types.

Did you eat your vegetable as a child?

Yes, I was forced to! But I loved them, my mother ate a lot of vegetables, in Italian cuisine, 70% of our diet is vegetables and carbs, and the rest is proteins and fats.

Traditionally, most pasta sauces are made only with vegetables, the meat ragu is only for special occasions and cheese is only used as a seasoning or garnish, by grating a little on top of the dish.

What would your last supper meal be?

It would have to be some sort of very simple ceviche or marinated fish along with pasta with a tomato sauce. And cannoncini for dessert, which is puff pastry, wrapped round a special shaped instrument and filled with cream.

What’s your favourite type of cuisine?

I love spicy food, and one cuisine in particular that I love is Sri Lankan food.
I love Sri Lanka, and its one of my favourite places.

What is the most peculiar request you’ve had from a diner?

Many years ago, a customer in the USA requested Turkducken; Turkey, stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a pigeon, I just had to refuse.

Parting words?

Food is love and art. The artist has a palate of colours; cooks have a palette of flavours. Food is good when you care, people can taste the love. Food ties you to people; friendships and connections with people and you carry these people with you like an extended family.

For more information:

The Palace Boutique Hotel
00973 17 725 000

Masso
00973 17 72 1061

The Orangery Tea Room
00973 1736 9696
 

We were served:
1 – Seared Ahi Tuna
2 – Casarecce – homemade vegetarian pasta with trapanese pesto sauce
3 – Mango & Passion fruit “unmolded” cheesecake

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