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Recipes for Success: Chef Mario Zechender in Riyadh offers advice for amateurs, discusses staying calm in the kitchen 

DUBAI: Mario Zechender, head chef at Carbone Riyadh, the latest addition to the city’s international imports, has been hard at work over the last few months getting the Italian-American restaurant — a favorite with celebrities in the US — up and running for its new Saudi clientele.   

Raised by his grandmother, who instilled in him a passion for cooking, Zechender attended a culinary arts school in Teano and, after completing his education, moved to the Netherlands, where he worked in several Italian restaurants, including Mirafiori and Casa di David in Amsterdam. He spent five years honing his craft before joining NH Hotels as a chef for three more years.  

Carbone Riyadh is the latest addition to the city’s international imports. (Supplied)

He then returned to Italy, working in various Michelin-starred restaurants, before moving abroad again to work in South America. Following that was a stint in India, after which he moved to the Kingdom this year for Carbone’s October opening.  

The new Riyadh outlet is Carbone’s seventh, along with Hong Kong, Doha, Las Vegas, Miami, Dallas, and the New York original, which opened in 2013 and ranks among the buzziest American restaurants of the last decade.  

Carbone is known for creating a contemporary, celebratory, and highly exclusive dining experience inspired by the storied tradition of the classic mid-19th-century, New York-style Italian restaurant.   

Carbone Spicy Rigatoni. (Supplied)

“I’m at the restaurant before 7 a.m. and we close after 1 a.m. So, I’m living in the kitchen now,” Zechender tells Arab News. “There hasn’t been any time to see the city. But hopefully, once we get into calmer waters, I’ll be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of Riyadh.  

Here, Zechender discusses his management style, his favorite Chilean dish, and how customers can annoy him.   

Q: What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?   

A: Just improve yourself and keep working on your skills at home, like chopping vegetables and your skills with kitchen knives.  

What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?  

For me, it’s fresh herbs and citrus peels. For example, if you’re making tomato sauce, if you just add some basil leaves, you’ll really improve the flavor, freshness and aroma of the sauce.  

Meatballs. (Supplied)

When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?   

When I go out, I try just to enjoy the experience. I don’t like to criticize the chef, because each chef is different and has different techniques. If something bad were to happen, I just wouldn’t go back to the restaurant. But I wouldn’t complain to the chef, because he’s got his own technique.  

When you go out to eat, what’s your favorite cuisine? 

I really enjoy Mexican food because they don’t use too many ingredients but they’re always fresh ingredients.    

Caesar alla ZZ – Carbone. (Supplied)

 

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home, say in 20 minutes?  

When I want to cook something quick, it’s usually pasta with some simple, fresh ingredients. That takes me less than 10 minutes.  

What request/behavior by customers most annoys you?  

For me, as an Italian, I get annoyed when customers ask for ‘well-done’ pasta. Pasta is meant to be eaten al dente.   

What are you like in the kitchen? Are you a disciplinarian or are you more laidback?  

I’m definitely more laidback in the kitchen. Because, for the chefs, it’s very tough, so I like to be calm. After the service, we normally do a short briefing. And if someone made a mistake, then that’s when I would correct them — once the service is finished. 

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