Chef Nicolo Rotella

A Culinary Journey from Turin to Shanghai

"Passion is the ingredient that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary."

From a young age, nestled in the kitchen corners of his father’s Turin restaurant, Nicolo Rotella was no stranger to the dance of chefs during dinner service. As a child, he completed his homework amidst the clatter of pots and the aromatic allure of Italian dishes being crafted before him. This early exposure to the culinary arts ignited a passion that would define his future.

Upon completing his formal education, Nicolo embarked on a gastronomic pilgrimage across Italy, sharpening his skills under the tutelage of some of the country’s most revered chefs. His journey through the realms of seafood and traditional Italian fare saw him grace the kitchens of esteemed establishments, including the two-Michelin-starred Il Sorriso, where foundational techniques were honed.

His culinary ascent continued at Il Piccolo Lago under Chef Marco Sacco and at the legendary three-Michelin-starred Da Vittorio with Chef Chicco Cerea. It was here that Nicolo’s prowess caught the eye of the culinary elite, leading to his pivotal role in the New Wave project by Da Vittorio in Shanghai. Under his stewardship, the venture swiftly garnered a Michelin star, marking a significant milestone in his career.

In the summer of 2023, Nicolo Rotella took the helm as Chef De Cuisine at 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA Shanghai. At this two-Michelin-starred venue, he continues to captivate the palates of Shanghai’s diners with his commitment to exceptional Italian cuisine, crafted from high-quality ingredients. Under his guidance, the restaurant not only sustains its celebrated legacy but also pushes the boundaries of what Italian dining can embody.

Nicolo Rotella’s story is a testament to the profound impact of heritage and mentorship on culinary mastery—a narrative of passion, perseverance, and exceptional skill that continues to unfold in Shanghai’s vibrant dining scene.

Culinary Close-Up

“In the Kitchen with Nicolo Rotella”

Step into the vibrant kitchen of Chef Nicolo Rotella, where tradition meets innovation in every dish he crafts. Born in Turin and shaped by the world, Chef Nicolo has carved a niche for himself in the culinary industry with his unique blend of heritage and creativity. Today, we go beyond the recipes and plating to discover the passions, inspirations, and philosophies of a chef who is redefining modern Italian cuisine. Join us as we delve into an intimate conversation with Chef Nicolo, exploring the journey, challenges, and culinary delights that mark his path to success.

Culinary Philosophy and Inspiration:

“Can you share how your Turinese roots and experiences in international kitchens influence your culinary philosophy today?”

– Working in an Italian restaurant abroad, I draw daily inspiration from the cherished dishes of my childhood. Growing up, my grandparents enriched my life with an array of delicious meals that continue to influence my culinary style. Even though I now reinterpret these traditional dishes using local Chinese ingredients and modern techniques, they still retain the robust flavors of Piedmontese tradition. This blend of old and new ensures that each dish, while innovative, remains true to its roots, offering a taste of Piedmont, Italy, no matter where it’s served.

Signature Dishes:

“What are some of the signature dishes you’ve developed at Otto E Mezzo Bombana Restaurant and what makes them unique to your style?”

– The Shimaji is perhaps my favorite dish on the menu at Otto e Mezzo Bombana, where I have worked since joining the team. This dish exemplifies the seamless integration of Italian culinary traditions with local ingredients. Shimaji, a small member of the amberjack family common in Italy, undergoes a meticulous preparation process. We first marinate the fish, then char-grill it to achieve raw, tender meat with a crisp skin.

Our seasoning approach draws inspiration from one of Italy’s simplest yet most beloved summer salads, “fennel and orange.” However, we reinterpret this classic combination in a modern style: the dish features an extraction of fennel, a burnt orange gel, and a pickle moist with seeds that introduce a refreshing burst of flavor. We further embellish the dish with fresh wild fennel flowers and complete it with a vibrant lemon leaf green oil. This innovative presentation retains the essence of Italian flavors while embracing the culinary techniques and ingredients of our locale.

Sustainability in Cuisine:

“Sustainability is a significant trend in the culinary world. How do you incorporate sustainable practices in your menu planning and kitchen operations?”

– For many years, Otto e Mezzo Bombana has taken significant strides in sustainability, starting with the daily use of recycled paper and achieving nearly 90% reduction in plastic use.  We also engage in continuous staff training centered around a zero-waste policy.

I firmly believe that collaborating with local farmers is the most substantial step toward sustainability. While these locally sourced, organic products may sometimes appear less perfect due to their limited availability, they boast flavors that mass-produced items from large chains simply cannot match. To us, this commitment to local and sustainable ingredients defines our restaurant’s approach to environmental responsibility.

Close up with Nicolo Rotella, the Chef de Cuisine at Otto and Mezzo Bombana Two star Michelin restaurant in Shanghai

Challenges and Triumphs:

“What have been some of the most challenging aspects of running a kitchen, and what achievements are you most proud of?”

– Certainly, the most challenging experience of my career was moving to China to work with a team that had limited English proficiency and sourcing ingredients whose flavors were vastly different from those I was familiar with. However, amidst these challenges, one of the achievements I hold in highest regard is earning a Michelin star at New Wave by Da Vittorio. Having been part of this restaurant since its opening, this accolade not only marks a significant professional milestone but also a testament to our team’s dedication and hard work in the face of adversity.

Future Culinary Trends:

“Based on your extensive experience, what trends do you see shaping the future of Italian cuisine both locally and globally?”

-I believe that the future direction of global cuisine will embrace the principle of “less is more.” This philosophy advocates for fewer ingredients on the plate, yet each will be more carefully selected—more organic, fresher, more distinct, and more flavorful. This approach not only highlights the quality and uniqueness of each ingredient but also reflects a broader trend towards sustainability and mindfulness in cooking.

Advice for Aspiring Chefs:

“What advice would you give to young chefs who are just starting out and aspire to reach the level of success you have achieved?”

– My advice to young chefs is to take their time and resist the urge to rush their careers. It’s important not to leave a position until you have mastered all aspects of that particular kitchen. Confidence is key—be assured in your abilities and steadfast in pursuing your goals. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable if your aspirations evolve over time; adaptability is a strength, not a weakness.

Follow Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA Restaurant