Having spent the past two decades in Singapore, charming diners while manning the front of house at various Italian establishments before setting up a number of fine Italian restaurants of his own, Beppe De Vito is most immediately recognised as ‘Beppe the restaurant manager’. It was only in recent years that diners have come to realise that Beppe wears more than one hat – he is not just a restaurateur but a chef as well. Today, the 44-year-old, native of Bari in South Italy, has a stable of restaurants that range from casual pizzerias and trattorias like AMO and &SONS, to fine dining concepts like Osteria Art, AURA, ilLido at the Cliff and the recently Michelin-starred Braci.
Tiramisu, from Osteria Art
“The tiramisu was the first dish I ever made. I didn’t want to wake up early for church so I struck a deal with my mother to let me sleep in and have her do my bed instead. In exchange for that, I would cook her something. It took me months to succeed in making a tiramisu I was proud to serve to my family. The mascarpone kept breaking apart and the biscuit was always too soft. Learning to make that one tiramisu was when I truly started understanding the art and dedication of cooking.”
Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Robiola Cheese
“The risotto was the first dish I learnt how to prepare professionally. Risotto is a Northern Italian dish so my parents never made it. I began to get good at it because we kept practising it in school. I did not enroll into the culinary course with my hospitality management school, the popular Perotti Institute in Bari, But my teacher from the operations side insisted that all students had to practise cooking to understand the whole operations of running a restaurant.”
Grilled Vegetable Roll
“After graduating from school, I chalked up more operational and management experience working within the Italian restaurant group Bice’s international outlets in Spain and France. I was once left without a head chef and an inexperienced sous chef. To satisfy vegetarian guests, I created a dish of eggplant stuffed with peppers and basil, rolling it up like Japanese maki sushi using a Japanese bamboo rolling mat, then serving it with balsamic vinegar and pesto. I even had customers coming back asking for the dish. That was when I realised, there has to be a certain accommodation to what customers want, then they’ll be willing to come back.”
Through his success at Bice London, the plucky Italian was eventually posted to Singapore in 1995 to help launch Bice at Goodwood Park. While Bice Singapore closed in 2000 but De Vito would go on to make waves again in the contemporary Italian dining scene with the opening of Garibaldi in 2003, and then again in 2005 when he left Garibaldi to set up his own restaurant ilLido. From there, he has since built a reputable restaurant empire.
Sea Urchin Carbonara, from &Sons Bacaro
“&SONS was born out of wanting to make our own stuff. It’s a busy Italian cafe by day and trendy bar by night, the casual and accessible joint comes complete with a salami bar where meats are cured in-house and everything from the pasta to breads and pastry are made on-site, and then sent across to the other restaurants in the group. I see &SONS as a test kitchen of artisans, a laboratory of sorts where we experiment with making our own products. When I noticed diners’ increased appetite for sea urchin and that prices for it were becoming more competitive, I decided to offer this dish to encourage more diners to embrace more artisanal produce, like our housemade guanciale.”
Aged Duck with Apple and Crispy Skin, from Braci
“The idea for Braci first came about more than five years ago when I got a bit fed up with the restaurant scene and the constant unreliability (of staff and partners). To solve the problem, I took inspiration from Japanese izakayas that serve only a dozen diners and required less manpower operationally. The idea is to go back to the basics and to cook over wood fire. You can’t hide with wood-fire cooking; there’s no fixed steps to follow. I don’t like to stick to a recipe 100% of the time, I’m always upgrading my dishes. In the six months that the aged duck has been on the menu at Braci, it has been tweaked it a few times.”
Gianduiotto with Frangelico Cream and Golden Hazelnuts, from Braci
“I think the best dish to show how much I’ve grown since that very first tiramisu I made is the Gianduiotto with Frangelico cream and golden hazelnuts. This signature dessert took months of research and testing to put together. I like how none of the flavours stand out; all the chocolates are melded together to created a rich balance in taste and sweetness. It was difficult to get the consistencies of the chocolate right.”
Bone Marrow, Wild Garlic Pesto and Anchovy Salsa, from Amo
De Vito has not stopped growing his restaurant empire. This June 2017, De Vito adds another concept to his growing stable. Amò on HongKong Street focuses on pizzas and large sharing plates. “It can be the location that comes up, or the concept first; but most of the times it takes a combination of the two and the timing to open a new restaurant. Sometimes we have staff who are looking to grow, so it’s about taking stock of our capabilities and matching them to the location and target market.”
Apart from its wood-fired oven, Amò’s highlights are pizzas using pizza dough made from a mother yeast starter he spent the past two years cultivating. “Knowing that we’ll be offering the classic pizza flavours, we decided to go a bit crazy on our other pizza offerings. We just imagined building layers of flavour that meld together to create things like the pumpkin based pizza with pancetta, friarielli, smoked mozzarella and calabrian chilli.”
A version of this story was published in SALT magazine June/July 2017 issue.