No less than three Michelin Stars crown the kitchen of the family restaurant Da Vittorio in Bergamo, northern Italy, run by Enrico Cerea and his brother Roberto Cerea. Enrico, whom everyone calls Chicco, is known for combining old Lombard traditions and current international kitchen trends in perfect harmony in his menus – always refined and always at a high level of craftsmanship.


This year you and compatriot Fausto Arrighi support the "Volkswagen Dining Guide" in choosing the best Hungarian restaurant as experts from abroad. What does the life of a juror look like?

Oh, it was very stressful! (laughs) No, really! I spent four days in Hungary and tested more than 15 restaurants during this time, meaning that we visited three or four restaurants per day. Noon, afternoon, evenings – I always ate. But it was only possible because the Hungarian restaurants are much more flexible than we are in Italy, where almost all restaurants close for the afternoon.


Tonight we will find out the winner of Hungary's Restaurant of the Year. Did you have a hard time making the decision?

It was, of course, a neck-and-neck race, especially in the first three places. It was certainly not easy to make the final decision, but in the end we were all satisfied with the final result. What set the balance for me was the consistency of the winner [Costes subsequently became Hungary’s Restaurant of the Year]. By that I mean that the quality was consistently high across all courses served.


What was your general impression of Hungarian gastronomy?

The problem that I see in today's Hungarian gastronomy is that the chefs are too focused on each other and on which are the current international trends. Everyone does the same. If, for example, the Nordic cuisine is currently in fashion, then all jump on the train and offer Nordic cuisine. This is something that I specifically observed only in Hungary, but that is increasingly becoming an international problem.


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What should be done instead?

I like it when a restaurant or a chef has his own identity and this is reflected in the food. Of course one should not decline to use new technologies or ingredients, but you have to make them your own and integrate them into your identity, instead of simply just using it. Do not just do it like everyone else, do it your own way! It is also important that you understand what the roots of your own kitchen are and what makes it special. When I do that, I manage to incorporate something new – of course always in moderation – without losing the identity of my kitchen.


You almost sound like you are disappointed with Hungarian cuisine. Do you see strength?

I'm not disappointed at all. That is – as I said – an international problem. Hungarian cuisine has much to offer. It has the great advantage that it can draw on fantastic ingredients that measure up to the international comparison. Think of the meat, or the vegetables. A lot has developed in recent years and Hungarian gastronomy is on the move. It is like a quake and the vibrations of this quake are felt in Italy as well, where in recent years we heard more and more about Hungary. The Hungarian Mangalitsa pig is one example. That's why I was very pleased when “Volkswagen Dining Guide” invited me.


You helped a lot with the newly created confectionary section of the “Volkswagen Dining Guide”. Why are you so passionate about sweets?

My father – a fantastic man and a visionary – has shaped me and my career. When I decided to cook, my dad sent me away to study in the best kitchens of the world. Already at that time he sensed that I would be particularly interested in the field of confectionaries. He hoped at the very least, because that was the area that was still underdeveloped in our family restaurant (laughs). The critics always complained about that. It was a great incentive for me and I made every effort to learn as much as possible and to improve more and more in this area. At the age of 25 I published my first book with recipes from the confectionary. The book was a minor scandal in Italy at that time, because all my creations had to be served on a plate, much like a main dish. Until then, cakes and other desserts were still rolled with the trolley to each table and offered to the guest. So it was a little bit of a revolution.


Is there a Hungarian dessert that was particularly to your liking?

The simple things were the ones that intrigued me the most. For example kürtőskalács (chimney cake), but also Túró Rudi. I am always particularly interested in dishes that would also fit in well with the Italian cuisine. Let's take Túró Rudi for example: this is of course a Hungarian specialty and it does not exist in Italy. But we also like chocolate and curd cheese, so it would also fit in Italy. The typical Hungarian cakes were also very interesting.


You have already cooked for famous people such as former US presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, singer Tina Turner and even the Queen. Does a three-star cook get nervous about cooking for the Queen of England?

It makes no difference to me whether I'm cooking for Obama, the Queen or any guest in our restaurant, I always prepare the courses with my full attention and passion. That's just how it is when you're a perfectionist. And I expect that from my employees too. If you stop concentrating, a lot can go wrong. But let me tell you a story: me and my team once did the catering for a very distinguished wedding between two very important people. They wanted a huge wedding cake with everything that you can imagine. But when we wanted to wheel in the cake in the hall, we realised that it does not fit through the doors. The thing was just too wide. We tried to tilt the cake a bit, but it just could not be done. It was a disaster. I was lucky that the weather was good, so we quickly moved it to the garden and served the cake there. Thankfully the guests responded very well. So to answer your question about whether I get nervous sometimes: I was really nervous at that time.

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