When did you know you wanted to be a chef? "When I was really young, every day I would say to my mum, 'I want to be a cook.' I followed my heart and studied at a catering school for five years, then I went to some very nice restaurants to get some experience. The first restaurant I worked at was [the now defunct] Michelin two-star Gambero Rosso [in Tuscany, Italy] under chef Fulvio Pierangelini, when I was 17. After that I went back to Rome, where I am from, to work at Roscioli. The owner gave me a great opportunity for a work stint at Uliassi, a restaurant in Senigallia [on Italy's Adriatic coast]. Afterwards, I worked at Roscioli again and later as a kitchen manager in Cape Town, South Africa. [In 2011] I opened my own restaurant [Pipero al Rex] with Alessandro Pipero, in Albano Laziale [in Rome]. We had been open for only nine months when we received a Michelin star."
You've been called the king of the carbonara. What's so special about your version of the dish? "I don't make it the definitive or original way. I just do it my way. I learned how to make it the traditional way at Roscioli, but I've made some adjustments. The ingredients are the same - guanciale [cured pork jowl], egg yolk, cheese and pasta - but no cream, nothing else. The most important thing is the temperature of the eggs: it must not be higher than 65 degrees Celsius, otherwise the texture changes and you scramble them. I don't heat the sauce over the fire or in a pan but mix the cheese and eggs in a bowl over a water bath."
How did your family influence you? "At home, we don't care [laughs]. You eat what your mum prepares with no complaints. My mum is not a great cook. For the older generation, the mums stayed at home. But both my parents worked and that's why I started to cook for myself. When I was 10 years old, I made my first pasta dish. It was with tomato sauce. I was alone at home and starving, so I had to try. My grandmother is a great cook. She made great food all the time - fresh ravioli with spinach and ricotta. She also made great lamb with potato."
What's your comfort food? "Spaghetti with clams. It's a traditional dish you can find wherever you go in Italy; but every chef makes it differently."