It took a lot of convincing to get chef Pierluigi Trotta to move from Britain to Russia, but once he arrived in Moscow he discovered a dynamic dining scene and many eager cooks.
Anative of Switzerland, born to Italian parents, Trotta started working in restaurants at the age of 9—behind the bar at the restaurant of some relatives—and hasn’t looked back.
In March he became head of research and development for Rosinter Restaurants, a company that manages 295 restaurants, including an Italian brand called Il Patio, a Japanese chain called planet Sushi, 22 T.G.I. Friday’s units, for which Rosinter is the franchisee for Russia and Eastern Europe, a concept named after a Siberian beer called Sibersky Korona, and a Russian chain called 1-2-3 Café. The company aims to increase its primary growth vehicle, 1-2-3 Café, from units 6 to 20 units by the end of 2009. Rosinter also runs some single-unit restaurants.
Trotta recently attended Nation’s Restaurant News’ Culinary R&D Conference in Charlotte, N.C., which he learned about by browsing the Internet.
You started working in restaurants at age 9?
I was helping family. I was very passionate about cooking because it has been a tradition, coming from an Italian family and having a very good meals on weekends. I got inspiration from my mother, who would wake up early to make pasta. My first job was peeling potatoes and washing pots, and I still liked it, so my parents decided to send me to a catering college.
In your early career you moved back and forth between Italy and Switzerland. How did you end up in London?
I decided to move to London because I wanted to get a better knowledge of English. It was becoming more and more essential to speak English to get knowledge from all around the world. I was also curious to see the growing restaurant business there in the 1990s. Marco Pierre White had made a revolution in English cooking, so I wanted to find out about new trends in this British nouvelle cuisine. I worked with Tom Aikens, who had two Michelin stars at the time, at Pied à Terre. I was chef de partie there.
BIOGRAPHY Title: research and development manager, Rosinter Restaurants, MoscowBirth date: November 15, 1972Hometown: Porrentruy, SwitzerlandEducation: catering college in San Benedetto del Tronto, ItalyCareer highlights: working for Tom Aikens and Terence Conran in London; working for Marriott in Moscow; joining Rosinter
Title: research and development manager, Rosinter Restaurants, MoscowBirth date: November 15, 1972Hometown: Porrentruy, SwitzerlandEducation: catering college in San Benedetto del Tronto, ItalyCareer highlights: working for Tom Aikens and Terence Conran in London; working for Marriott in Moscow; joining Rosinter
I also worked for Terence Conran’s restaurants and got up to sous chef at Mezzo restaurant. I was in London for seven years.
Why did you leave?
A good friend of mine I had worked with in London had just gotten promoted to executive chef of the Renaissance in Moscow. He wanted a trusted executive sous chef. He got after me and convinced me to move to Moscow. At first I wasn’t so hot to go there, but as soon as I went for the interview all of my doubts were cleared. I saw a fascinating city and a lot of willingness to learn from the people working in the restaurants. I felt at ease right away. It was the best choice I’ve ever made.
I worked [at the Renaissance] for five years, becoming executive chef after three, and for the past seven months I’ve been at Rosinter.
Why do you like Moscow so much?
I enjoy working with the people. They are so willing to learn, and they show so much enthusiasm for new projects. Not only do they take up the knowledge, but they really share theirs. They learn very fast, too.
Also the economic situation is very good. The market is really booming and growing at a fast pace, and we’re growing every day.
What is restaurant culture like in Moscow?
It’s in constant revolution. At the moment there’s a trend to eat Japanese and Italian cuisine. Six or seven years ago you would have found French cuisine everywhere. The czars in St. Petersburg had a big connection with them, and for Russians, French culture and cuisine was always something to look toward.
But now that Russians are better off and in a better position to travel, they have learned more about the world, and they have discovered Italian and Japanese cuisine, mostly sushi.
What’s the labor pool like?
It’s a struggle, because they don’t really have a background in the hospitality business. During the Soviet time there were very few hotels, and they were not run in a friendly way. But that’s changing as more and more companies come to invest in the restaurant market here, such as Marriott, Hilton and Starwood. They’ve been training locals and now you find more local people in the business, and they’re trained very well.
But you still say labor is a problem?
With the number of restaurants we’re opening, it’s hard to find labor in Moscow, where we’re 20 percent under-staffed. But it’s easier outside of the city.
CHEF’S TIPS Keep food simple. Simplicity and freshness are what sells most.
Keep food simple. Simplicity and freshness are what sells most.
Another main issue is finding products on a custom basis. We have very few importers, and they basically have monopolies, so we suffer a lot on costs. Those are the two major struggles we have: labor and custom products.
Logistics aren’t there yet either to cover distribution in the countryside. From Moscow to St. Petersburg it’s covered very well, but elsewhere it’s very difficult, especially for fresh products. Not a lot of companies are involved in that kind of business yet, but it’s coming.
Do you plan to stay in Russia for a long time?
Oh yes. I see myself there for the next four or five years. Ideally, I would love to go to a nice location with sunshine, like Spain, for the language as well as the environment and atmosphere. Spanish is the next language I’d like to learn.
What has surprised you the most about Russians’ tastes?
Their ability to learn very fast about different products from abroad. For example, mozzarella: They can tell you what type of mozzarella is good, the classic ones as well as buratta and bufala. They’re very fast learners about that.