Chef Mario Frittoli has his hands in many pies, from selling his cookbooks to consulting for Japanese supermarkets, to regular appearances on NHK’s Asaichi. The essence of his passion, however, lies in his Mario I Sentieri restaurant in Nishi-Azabu. Metropolis caught up with the chef there to find out how he delivers the fruit of this passion.
Where are you from in Italy?
I’m from Viareggio, in Tuscany. Before I had my own restaurant, I worked in Paris, London, and Los Angeles. Twenty-five years ago, I was called here [to Tokyo] to open an Italian restaurant called “Il Forno.” I thought it was fantastic, the way the Japanese were so meticulous, and so I never went back.
Was there a chef that you encountered in your youth who inspired you?
I went to culinary school from 14 to 17 years of age, and my professor used to work at a restaurant called “Angelo Paracucchi.” Angelo Paracucchi was a very famous chef in Italy, close to the school. Since I had a very good relationship with my professor, he said, “Mario, please come over!” It was a Michelin two-star establishment; so since my start, food to me was “fancy.”
With Mario I Sentieri, are you trying to deliver a purely Italian experience, or are you making concessions to the Japanese palate?
In Greater Tokyo, there are 2,500 Italian restaurants. Everyone is trying to do spaghetti carbonara [or] pomo d’oro. My menu is very original. For example, in Italy, you have a potato gnocchi; here, we have pistachio gnocchi. We do things that are original and extravagant. We do, for example, pappardelle. Pappardelle is a big pasta that is very typical of Tuscany, but we do it with inoshishi [Japanese wild boar].
Since 2016 is a brand new year, is there anything new that you’d like to bring to the people?
Our Milano-style bar, sponsored by Campari, is much bigger than it used to be. And we now have a designated bartender who is also fantastic. In terms of other new things, we work with a lot of seasonal ingredients, so things are always changing. Also, I will be doing a lot of TV-related events.
You have been quoted as saying that Japanese food is “komakai,” or meticulous. What is one word that sums up your cuisine?
It’s an experience. A few appetizers, then fish or meat, and then you will see how I express my food and my personality. The plate is a canvas, and every day, I am expressing my personality with the fresh foods I receive from the market.
Any final words about the Mario I Sentieri experience?
Everyone has their own speciality. My speciality is pasta. The pasta here is very unique. Also, there are only three price ranges on the menu, because we believe that if you put too many things on the menu, you lose your creativity. The less we print on the menu, the more creative we can be for you.
4-1-10 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Nearest station: Roppongi. http://mario-frittoli.com