Apart from being spellbound by Chef Martina’s mixed shape pasta served drowning in ragusano cheese sauce and scrumptiously topped with mussels, we were also beguiled by her light-hearted, down-to-earth personality. Bold and fearless like the Sicilian cuisine she specialises in, we recently sat down with the charismatic chef.

As part of the Sicilian Journey dining pop-up hosted by Gastronauts Asia last year, Chef Martina Caruso, a chef and owner of one-Michelin-starred Hotel Signum in Salina, Italy was welcomed as a first guest chef to grace the Sicilian food series with her signature dishes.

Martina Caruso

Although Martina is the youngest female chef to receive a Michelin star in Italy, her food expresses bold charisma and the vibrancy of Sicily’s charm second to none. Her knack and passion for working with Sicilian ingredients to create a groundbreaking meal are greatly celebrated among Italian chefs – and now also among Bangkok-based ones. 

Martina Caruso
Chef Martina’s Mixed Shape Pasta

With so great of chance to wine and dine over Sicilian food and vino with her, we eagerly seized this opportunity to also sit down and chat with her in a food centric-talk. Read all about her insights and thoughts in this full and exclusive interview below.

What are the essential Sicilian ingredients every Sicilian household must have?

Olive oil, tomato, and eggplant. The latter is an absolute must-have item. We cook with eggplant a lot. 

What was your first job in the kitchen?

Grilling vegetables and preparing salad. These were my first kitchen jobs when I was about 14. 

Martina Caruso
Martina Caruso’s one-Michelin-starred Hotel Signum in Salina, Italy
Who is your role model?

My dad Michele, who introduced me to cooking, and Chef Pino Cuttaia from Sicily. 

If you were to be an ingredient, what would you be and why?

I would be Malvasia grape. It’s a wine grape and I love its transformation from blooming on a vine, being sun-dried, and being made into a very great bottle of opulent wine — passito wine, to be specific.  

What is one food movie everyone should see?

Ratatouille, of course! [laughs]

What meal inspired you to become a chef?

Poached egg. My mom used to cook it for me often when I was young and it was actually the first thing I learned to cook. 

Martina Caruso

What kind of stories are you telling through your food?

I like to tell the stories of Sicilian islands and also my travel experiences through the food I make. Going on a trip and exploring new places are my ways of learning about new ingredients and new cooking techniques. I use my food to depict the journeys that I had. 

What is the best meal you’ve eaten in Bangkok so far?

Tom Yum Goong! So delicious. 

Martina Caruso

Wine or water?

Wine.

Lime or lemon?

Lemon! I’m Sicilian after all. [laughs]

Pineapple on pizza or no?

No, absolutely not. This is a sensitive topic for the Italians. But Nutella is a perfect exception for a dessert pizza. 

Martina Caruso

What do you eat for guilty pleasure?

I love going for something simple like basic pasta dishes when I feel like having guilty pleasure food. But most importantly, my guilty pleasure meal always depends on who I share it with; that’s what make it so good. 

How often do you prepare your own meals at home?

I cook at home quite often. And since the restaurant opened, I’ve been trying to take care of my health by eating the right thing at the right time, because sometimes a chef schedule can get very hectic. I cook for myself pretty much everyday both at home and at work. I also like the time spent on cooking at home with my boyfriend. It’s part of the daily routine in life I truly enjoy. 

Martina Caruso

What is your favourite tool in the kitchen?

Non-stick pan — it’s a very great tool to have in cooking.

Your advice to aspiring chefs?

The number one rule is to always stay humble, even when you’re awarded or become famous. Also, travel as much as you can and constantly do research on cooking to keep on evolving as a chef. 

Martina Caruso

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Pasta with simple tomato sauce and a ton of parmesan.

Unexpected party. What do you cook?

Deep-fried seafood, because it’s a crowd-pleasing dish and perfect to share. It also reminds me of celebration. 

Martina Caruso

It’s your last supper. What do you eat?

A bunch of buffalo mozzarella. [smiles]

Last but not least, what’s for dinner?

Deep-fried Italian fishballs with sweet and sour onion sauce. Ravioli filled with soft ricotta filling sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with Sicilian orange seasoning. I’m planning to also have Caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dish. And for dessert, I would like to also have a good Biancomangiare, a pudding-like milky Italian dessert. Yum. 

Martina Caruso

Kankanit Wichiantanon
Writer, Bangkok
Kankanit is a writer by day and a baker by night. If there’s one thing you should know about her, it’s that she can wax poetic about food 24/7. Her daily routine is writing, cooking, eating, repeat. They are the things that inspire her from morning 'til night.