Interview: Grand Hyatt chef Alessandro Cozzolino on dim sum, snake soup and chicken feet

The chef de cuisine at Grissini, at the Grand Hyatt, in Wan Chai, talks to Grace M.W. Wong about making it to the top at a young age and says he's no fan of snake soup or chicken feet

"All the men in my family are good cooks and everyone is involved in the kitchen work, but I am the first chef. My parents separated when I was young. Whenever I saw my mother and grandmother, I was asked to help out in the kitchen. I liked this enough that I decided to become a chef. It is a pleasure, not a job. I began my training at 14. In Italy, during the first five years of culinary school, you learn the basics before moving on to the professional training."

"Hong Kong is a good experience. There are lots of big competitors and many restaurants, so it's a good place for me to explore. My favourite Chinese food so far is fried rice and dim sum. I don't like snake soup or chicken feet. Italians eat rabbits but this is just not the same as live snakes. I like really big, old-fashioned Chinese eateries. I enjoy Chinese seafood dishes but would not want to eat street snacks. I am particular about hygiene standards. It is vital that everything is clean where food is prepared."

"Age does not equal experience. Some people may be 50 years old but they still don't have enough experience. There are so many things to learn at the hotel: managing the kitchen, the restaurant, the office routine. I arrive one hour earlier than my staff and prepare everything by myself. I make my pasta fresh every day. I don't just come in and check and then leave. My recipes are traditional yet prepared with modern techniques. There are three parts to our menu: the well-known Grissini dishes for our regulars - that doesn't change; another part is my creations; and then there are the seasonal dishes. It's crucial that long-established and modern-day dishes are offered together."

"The last plate you eat is always the first plate you remember. For me, it is important that I can finish a meal with a sweet touch. Italians also love their coffee. Coffee and desserts are gaining appreciation. In Italy, during week days, people are busy working and eat separately. Sunday is for family gatherings. At a typical Sunday family meal there are often two to four kinds of desserts."

"Gnocchi di patate - potato gnocchi. Because they are sweet, authentic, real, genuine, intense - just like me!"

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Alessandro Cozzolino