When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? “When I was 11 years old, I started cooking. I loved being in the kitchen watching my mother and grandmother cook. Whenever they were cooking they were happy, so I decided I should do that, too. I loved everything they made – their food was better than that of any Michelin-starred chef. I started travelling when I was 16 years old, going to countries like Spain, Belgium, and the United States. I travelled to see different cuisines and taught myself, although I did do apprenticeships. I didn’t like the directions the chefs gave me because I didn’t think they were right for me. In the end I created my own techniques and didn’t want to copy other chefs.”

What is your food philosophy? “I start from a tradition where the future of gastronomy is the past. Restaurants in New York and Hong Kong can all get the same ingredients [from the same suppliers] but no one has the local ingredients [from Ischia] that I use in my restaurant. Nowadays there is too much talk about philosophy in the kitchen. We are not superheroes; we need our guests and the next generation of chefs to understand we are not having fun in the kitchen – it’s hard work with lots of sacrifices.”

What do you think of celebrity chefs? “Chefs should stay in the kitchen, not on TV. I opened my restaurant to transmit my passion and techniques. I’m not like celebrity chefs who open restaurants and aren’t there.”

How do you feel about the chefs who worked for you going on to become stars?“I’m very proud to have had many sous chefs [including Alessandro Cozzolino, now the chef de cuisine at Grissini, at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong] work with me because I have been able to transmit my passion to them and show them how to behave in the kitchen. A lot of young chefs who have worked with me have gone on to earn Michelin stars. They may have hated me when they worked in my kitchen because I’m very strict in teaching respect for the guests and ingredients, everything must be clean and perfect. That is more important than Michelin stars.”

Tell us about where you live, Ischia, near Naples. “It’s an island based on tourism, although the food is more based on the land than seafood, even though the waters are pristine and clear.”

Why do you visit Japan every year? “Since I was 19 years old I have been going to Japan. Back then, not many Western chefs went there. I went to learn precision and discipline as well as knife skills and techniques, and incorporated them into my own style. I like how they use all parts of the fish. In Italy, most of the time we throw away most of the fish, but they use the bones and skin, and I have incorporated this into my cooking.”

At the Grissini promotion, you presented a lamb dish that was slow-cooked for two days. Where did that idea come from? “I didn’t cook the lamb above 67 degrees Celsius; [at that low temperature] the molecules don’t break and the texture is softer and the flavours more pronounced. People think rack of lamb is the best part, but I prefer the shoulder and leg. The dish I made recalls eggplant parmigiana with mozzarella, and the outside is crunchy – made with breadcrumbs, garlic and milk. These were the ingredients my mother used to eat with eggplant parmigiana. I also liked the idea of eating the lamb with a spoon.”

What do you grow in your garden? “Mediterranean flowers, herbs and vegetables. Part of the dining experience is the garden. Here it’s all skyscrapers and concrete, but when guests come to visit my restaurant in Ischia, they can relax. My guests arrive at 7pm and don’t leave until 1am.”

Tell us about your restaurant, Dani Maison. “I was previously a chef for a tailoring company that made suits for top businessmen, and I left a year and a half ago to start my own restaurant. When I worked with them I learned about hospitality. I got the idea to be less formal – no table­cloths – and to make guests feel comfortable. Before that, I was executive chef of Il Mosaico, in the five-star resort Terme Manzi Hotel, in Naples, where I got the first star, then 18 months later I got the second star. Last May I started my own restaurant and four months later got two Michelin stars. Someone was looking over me. When Michelin calls you, they don’t say how many stars you’ve been awarded, they just invite you to the event. It wasn’t until I got there that I realised I was getting two stars, not one. Michelin stars are not something to show off, but are about more responsibility. When I got my first star, my body shook. And now with my own restaurant it means even more because the restaurant is in the home of my father and grandfather.”

What inspires you?“Anything can bring inspiration. I made a dish of quail and scampi because I once saw a quail land on the beach and eat from shells on it, so I thought, ‘Why can’t I combine this kind of meat with shellfish?’”

What do you do when you’re not working? “I like collecting old cars. I have a 30-year-old Ferrari and a 1948 Fiat. I like to keep them in the garage and just look at them. For me, they transport me into another era. The only time I take them out is to the mechanic, to make sure they are running properly. I have an Audi A5, but when I pick up guests to take them to the restaurant, we drive them in a 50-year-old van. My staff always ask, ‘Why drive an old car?’ They think I’m very strange.”