Isola’s Italian chef Marco Sacco talks about cooking responsibly and Michelin stars

Chef known for his use of local products at his restaurant in Italy recently served a meal for 5,000 made using salvaged ingredients, and likes to find uses for things others might throw away

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 2:05pm

Chef Marco Sacco finds the energy of Hong Kong infectious. Coming from a small village on a lake northwest of Milan, Sacco says it’s amazing to see so many different cuisines offered within a short radius.

The chef-owner of the Michelin two-star Piccolo Lago in Verbania, Italy, began working as consultant chef to Isola at the IFC mall in Central early in 2015, and most recently was in the city as guest chef, serving white truffle dishes to diners.

He comes to Hong Kong every few months to add seasonal dishes to the menu and in return feeds off the vitality of the city, appreciating everything from street stall noodles to Michelin-starred restaurants in five-star hotels.

Sacco traces his interest back to childhood when he absorbed the smells and sounds of the kitchen – his parents opened Piccolo Lago in 1974 and he recalls the only way he could see his father was to go into the kitchen.

Eventually he began cooking with his father and, soon after turning 26, left Italy to broaden his training; he spent a lot of time in the south of France, learning culinary techniques from the likes of Alain Ducasse and Roger Vergé.

Today Piccolo Lago focuses on using local products such as ham from the Vigezzo Valley, extra-virgin olive oil from Umbria, and cheeses from the Formazza Valley. Sacco, known for his dishes of grilled local eel, and his concept of enhancing regional ingredients, caught the attention of the Michelin guide, which awarded the restaurant its first star in 2003, and its second one in 2007.

“When I got my first star I was expecting it because someone told me beforehand. But the best feeling was getting the second star. That morning – it was a Monday – the phone rang and the other person on the line explained he was the director of the Italian Michelin guide and told me that I had received the second star. I calmly thanked him, put the phone down, and then shouted, ‘Champagne!’”

Sacco is not only interested in creating delicious plates of food – he is also keen on experimenting with ingredients that others might throw away.

“Last year I worked a lot with vegetables, using things that would have been discarded, like carrot peels, where I’d use them to make broth, or into dried powder, or added in soups. I’d take the green tops and fry them to make into a snack. Chefs usually just peel carrots and then cook them. But if you look at it from a different perspective, you ask yourself, ‘Can I use this for something else?’ Sometimes the skin has more flavour. It’s not because I’m an environmentalist, but we are responsible to use products to make food. We need to respect the environment,” he says.

As part of a public education project, Sacco salvaged four tonnes of ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away, and made them into 5,000 plates of food in a square in Milan last October.

“I served the food in the square to show people how much food we waste,” he says. “As a chef I have to be an ambassador not to waste food. When we buy food products we should think of the dish and where it comes from.”

But that’s not all the two Michelin-starred chef does. He is very interested in design and 2½ years ago, he and an architect designed an intriguing wine decanter that can be seen at Gaia Ristorante in Central.

“We were talking and he [the architect] likes to drink wine. He didn’t like having to decant the wine two hours ahead of drinking it and wondered how we could accelerate the process,” Sacco explains.

The end result is a decanter that looks like a funnel with lots of crystal balls in it. The wine flows between the balls, aerating it; Sacco says this enhances the taste of the wine.