Nino Di Costanzo is a Relais & Châteaux Grand Master Chef, with two-Michelin-starred Il Mosaico restaurant at Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa, a thermal resort originally built in the 19th century, in the beautiful village of Casamicciola. The hotel is enchanting, a jewel nestled on a rough Ischian hillside. While soaking up the sun on the rooftop deck, it almost feels like you could be in the Amazon rainforest due to the location’s thick vegetation.
The hotel was built with love and passion by the Polito family who spared no expense in their search for perfection. Statues and tiles were all handmade by local craftsmen. The Presidential Suite’s ceilings are covered in gold leaf, furnished with unique antiques and artefacts and the bathroom is all in onyx. Il Mosaico restaurant mirrors the hotel’s fairy-tale-like touches.
Nino is no stranger to this plentiful volcanic island. He obtained his chef diploma at the Ischia School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, coming full circle following stints in some of the most renowned hotels in Italy and abroad, including the Four Seasons Los Angeles (set of the film Pretty Woman); the Eden in Rome, and many others in Canada; the United States; Belgium; Great Britain; Spain and Switzerland.
To eat well is a birth right in Italy. Families and communities often grow, cook and eat together, sharing in their recipes and produce and by this their principles of the Slow Food Movement. Great chefs emerge from all regions with an inheritance of the appreciation of good food and its source. This was no different for the young Nino. “My
memories relating to food go back to when I was a child. I grew up with a great fascination, affection and dedication to food.
“My cuisine reflects my childhood, my homeland and traditions.” Nino explains: “Italian values and Campania’s flavours are a continuing source of inspiration for my dishes, with the greatest respect for Italian raw materials. I may adjust cooking time or procedures, but the original flavour of main ingredients is never affected.
“My mother and grandmother have always had a great influence on my cuisine. They transferred their culinary passion, love for food, devotion and hard work [to me] as values of my everyday life.”
Couple this inherent passion with Nino’s experience working with many chefs at the top of their game and you can see how Nino’s hard training inspires the culinary creations at the hotel with his original and unmistakable style. “I learned techniques and the art of cooking from great chefs,” he says. These include two of the great masters of modern cuisine; Italian hero Gualtiero Marchesi and Juan Mari Arzak of Arzak restaurant in the Basque Country.
Nino’s cuisine is simple and refined with flavour. Colour and substance manifesting in a presentation of masterful dishes. “Aesthetic vision is a natural talent of mine,” says the chef. “I really love art and I often have a feeling that my hands move by themselves during culinary creation.”
Having spent eight years at Il Mosaico and many years previous to that working under other chefs, I wonder, is there a peak, a culinary epiphany that one reaches? “I think it is difficult to define a specific moment [in time],” Nino says. “Gastronomy and food are an allabsorbing and never-ending passion.”
Nino’s creations are full of strong emotions, always relating back to the raw ingredient: “I am inspired by love and passion every day when I choose my ingredients. When I create my dishes I put myself in my guests’ shoes and I prepare my combinations and compositions in order to highlight the products of our land.”
The hotel’s culinary offering is based on a long and careful search of high quality ingredients. “I comb through hundreds of small producers both in Italy and abroad, looking for and finding the same passion that inspires my job. My careful selection allows me to have the best products on the market.”
Only fresh ingredients find their way to restaurant Il Mosaico’s kitchen. The rest, bread and confectionery included, are homemade. “The products of our land are excellent. Therefore their flavour, colour and substance must be respected during the cooking process, in order to convey the right emotions. The secret is to find the right combinations to highlight each ingredient and make it recognisable, even in the most complex creations and by less educated palates,” Nino says.
Through the respect of raw ingredients and gourmet cooking techniques, Nino is capable of creating playful and inventive dishes, putting his all into each and every plate. There is, of course, a lot of Campania in each dish, too. “I usually use Campania’s ingredients because I know they can make the difference. Spices, chocolate and rice are few exceptions. Extra virgin olive oil, however, tomato and all buffalo milk produce are my favourite products to work with.”
Nino opened Il Mosaico in 2006 and had received two Michelin stars within 18-months. With just eight tables, including three chef’s tables, the atmosphere is always intimate and unquestionably romantic. The number of covers allows the team at Il Mosaico to go into great detail - from service through to menus.
In addition to the obligatory food menus, there’s a menu for water, oil and coffee. Dishes are masterful—the kind that appear too beautiful to eat. Each stunning dish is presented on copper, Murano glass and other carefully selected plates. Bread is presented in an old treasure chest. Guests are given a choice of 20 oils from the menu to accompany their bread with—each one representing a region in Italy, warmed by the maître d’s hand to bring out the infusion of flavours and smells.
An example of the refined details presented to guests at Il Mosaico is the tea trolley. Guests are presented with the trolley, arriving with freshly growing herb, which, upon selection by the diner, are delicately cut and infused inside an antique teapot.
Nino’s dishes are in contrast with his own humble and softly spoken persona. Two of Nino’s signature dishes; red prawns, with passion fruit and orange on vanilla and lime and the ‘coniglio all’acqua pazza’—a rabbit dish—is a reflection of his unique skill and dedication to his region. “In my view, chefs have a duty to produce a cuisine in tune with their traditions and origins. They should display what is best about their region and seek out the very best ingredients from their terroir and showcase them, while paying allegiance to the recipes, which they have grown up with, ones that bring back magnificent memories.”