Most of us would probably appreciate the chance for some quiet "me" time if we had been working for the past 54 years. However, Italian chef Giovanni Greggio is not like other men. He's been persuaded out of retirement after five decades of professional cooking so that he can run the new Gradini restaurant in The Pottinger hotel in Central. Greggio is reluctant to say what exactly prompted him to return to the kitchen but he's a bit more forthcoming about the mostly Italian menu, which features dishes from across the country, based on well-liked ingredients such as octopus, sea bass and scallops. "The methods of cooking vary from southern to northern Italy but we have focused on creating a mix of the best Italian flavours," says the chef. A couple of non-Italian dishes have been given a native twist. "Caesar salad did not originate in Italy but from its very name to the fact that it includes the best Italian ingredients - from parma ham or bacon to top quality Italian olive oils and salts - it should be considered one. We have embraced the Caesar salad." Greggio also defends his inclusion of a crab salad with mango salsa on the business lunch menu, saying that although mango is not a traditional Italian ingredient, they have prepared it in "the Italian way". Greggio says that he has always loved working in kitchens, whether in Italy, Dubai, Egypt, Greece, the Seychelles or Asia. "I really enjoy working with people from different cultures. I'm used to working in kitchens where the team speaks different languages and is from different backgrounds," he says. "Cultural differences have never been a factor for me because in the kitchen we are all family." The chef enjoys teaching and is trying to bring his new team of 20 to a point where they are confident and knowledgeable, and able to work as a team. This isn't the first hotel restaurant he has opened - in fact, during his career he became known as a specialist in opening hotel restaurants. Cultural differences have never been a factor for me, in the kitchen we are all family Giovanni Greggio Greggio was in Beijing for two years, for the opening of the Palace Hotel. "The period was not great, around the time of the Tiananmen Square [crackdown]," he says. But there are plenty of fond memories, too. One standout is the view over developing Dubai from the 20th storey of a block in the centre of the city. There are others. "In Cairo, my fondest memory was being given the gift of a cruise down the Nile for a week with my wife as a gesture of appreciation from my employer." But Greggio's career has been focused on work, not leisure, and much of that has been in grooming young chefs for their roles in the kitchen. "There are a lot of people I've worked with who have gone on to do great things. No matter where our careers take us, we stay in touch," he says. One such person is Lee Man-ki, with whom Greggio worked at Nicholini's in Hong Kong. "He has now gone on to become the executive sous chef of The Conrad and I am very proud of him." The restaurant Nicholini's, still going strong, was honoured with an award by Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, the then president of Italy. Greggio had a mentor in his youth, a man he describes as a second father. "I remember he took me to see how they dried parma ham and taught me about the precision involved in developing quality meats," he says. "We went to a farm where they dried the meat over 20 floors of a building - the whole process takes 18 to 20 months and the meat is dried by the open air coming through the windows. The meat is raised to different levels within the building as it goes through the drying process. "This was the original way of doing it at small farms and we would hand select the best parma ham," Greggio says.