CHEF TALKS: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHEF COSTANTINO VEGLIANTI FROM GIANNI CAFE
Silverspoon 2017 winner: Best Cafe
I stood in the lobby of Gianni Kohvik on a Wednesday morning, looking like a tourist. It is my fist visit to Gianni. The breakfast has just ended and the lunch did not yet begin. So we are pretty much standing by ourselves at the lobby, for now.
Gianni is divided in two: there is a restaurant with white table-cloths and a wine aquarium and on the other side a cafe. The interiors can easily give you an image of a posh Italian Restaurant.
We wandered to the cafe, resting our eyes on the pastry showcase at the end of the counter. ”Bet they come from a bakery”, I pointed the macarons, quiches and cakes to my colleague accompanying me.
Quite often the cafes simply don’t have the room, not to speak of craftsmanship, to prepare a very wide variety of products. ”Do you think so?”, she asked. ”You’ll see.”
Chef Costantino Veglianti arrives. To me he looks more like a German than an Italian restaurateur. Dark hair combed back and a pizza-pot belly are absent. He is given away though since the mouth is set for the usual Mediterrenean rapid-fire mode. Before we get to exchange names properly, Chef Veglianti is greeting guests arriving through the sliding doors at the entrance: ”Buongiorno! Come va?” The guests answer in German so Costatino goes on: ”Achso, wie geht’s mein Freund? Alles gut? Wie schön zu hören!” Spoken like a true cosmopolitan.
The cafe started under the name ”Fashion cafe” back in the day. I’m curious how things have changed since those days. ”First it was hard to get ingredients. I thought, when I came from Italy, that Estonia has a great variety of fish. The sea is so close from here. I thought we just go fishing But it didn’t work like that. Some weeks you got the product you ordered, some weeks you didn’t. It was hard to plan a menu if you can’t be 100-percent sure you get the ingredients,” Costantino thinks back.
Gianni has been running for twelve years now. Before Costantino came to Estonia and started with Gianni, he had his own restaurant in Berlin. When Gianni started to bloom and more clients found their way here, Costantino decided to sell his restaurant in Berlin and fully dedicate him to Gianni and Estonia.
Passion Passion Passion
At first Costantino was more focusing on building the restaurant, creating strong service standards, but eventually the road took him back to the kitchen. Now he’s been working in Gianni as the chef de cuisine eight consequent years. That’s an eternity by any standards used in the industry.
One must have an extremely good employer and a passion for the work. Elen confirms that they literally have to chase him out every now and then to have a day-off: ”He’s among the first to come in the morning and last to leave in the night.” But chef Veglianti has days ‘off. Well, sort of.
Apart from running the kitchen, Costantino is also a true wine enthusiast, taking pleasure and responsibility in creating the wine list for Gianni.
He finds himself often back in Germany for winetasting’s, looking for those rare treasures and bringing them back to surprise and satisfy even the most demanding customers.
“Our wine list is almost 100% Italian with a few classics from France and the ones we bring our self, you can only find in Gianni”.
This makes Gianni a peculiarity among restaurants since it is somewhat an oddity to have the chef involved in planning the carta de vinos. Nevertheless, it is something that differentiates and shows tremendous passion from the chef’s side.
Any favourite places in Estonia?
Since four or five years ago the restaurant revolution started in Estonia. New places opened all the time and the standards got higher. Chef Veglianti points out Tchaikovsky and restaurant Moon as among his favorites. While Tchaikovsky represents the classic restaurant with some of the Old Guard manning the posts, Moon draws from the innovations of the younger generation and has established itself well within the culinary scene.
Personalized service is the key
The sliding doors keep opening. By and by it becomes clear that chef Veglianti knows most of their customers at least by appearance. ”I look at the ticket in the kitchen and see: ‘ha, this lady likes her pasta full-grain’ or ‘he’s always asking to have it gluten free’”, Costantino says. I inquire whether they have a lot of regulars. ”Yes, yes. Many people come here to have breakfast, or lunch, and then come back in the evening for dinner. Sometimes we even keep the wine bottle they started at lunch-time for them when they come back later that day. We just put their name on the label.”
One of the core values cherished in Gianni is service. “We are very flexible with our guests. We want to personify the service.” Maybe they have done some things right ’cause people keep coming back. Chef Veglianti describes how even the guests know each other. “Often there are loud cross-table conversations or one of the regulars sitting here greeting all the other guests coming in”, Costantino motions at the corner table. I can imagine the elder gent with a bottle of Campari and a siphon set on the table.
The image of a poshy Italian cafe is starting to crumble. What about the pastries in the showcase?
“Oh, the pastry chef works from Monday to Friday. She’s very busy. For weekends we have to cover for her!”, Costantino exclaims. I stand corrected!
Chef Talks is a new Silverspoon Awards story series dedicated to introducing the hearts of every restaurants kitchen, the Chef’s and giving the readers a chance to learn more about the Top Chefs in Estonia.
The author, Juho Kääriäinen: a yesterday’s chef and a today’s hedonist, who consumes gastronomy in all it’s forms. He likes his steak “as kitchen sees fit”, and prefers Global-knives instead of MACs.”