He defines himself as “host-cook” and does not like to be called “chef”. The thing fits perfectly for Filippo La Mantia, a highly successful Palermo restaurateur whom I meet in his beautiful and large two-storey restaurant in Piazza Risorgimento in Milan, a central and elegant area where Filippo moves like in a large house, well furnished and very comfortable. There are large spaces, in a harmonious sequence of lights and colors that fully reflect the personality of the landlord.



One of the halls of the Filippo La Mantia restaurant. Photo by Gianmarco Chierigato.



On the ground floor, a well-stocked and spacious bar-cafe, recalls the beautiful tea rooms of the Milan of the past, where you can have lunch with a nice range of proposals. The large dining rooms, on the ground and upper floors, are perfectly equipped for Filippo’s famous buffets, customers move there with ease and confidence, showing that they are “regulars”. There are parents with children of all ages who serve themselves. I ask a seven year old boy what his favorite dish is and he promptly replies: “Filippo’s caponata, very good”. The two floors are linked by a scenic glass staircase that many prefer to the lift. We also go up without observing another bar-area dedicated to smoking customers.


On both floors there are also spaces dedicated to relaxation or waiting, with comfortable sofas and armchairs. Upstairs, Filippo’s personal counter stands out, equipped for his numerous show cooking. I take a furtive look at one of the buffets and perceive the scents and colors of true gastronomic Sicily.


So we sit down for our chat.



When did you first feel the desire to cook?

Since childhood, in Palermo, influenced by my family. I was 12 years old and I started doing the first things in the kitchen that had some success. I liked simple cooking and, over time, while improving my technique, I remained the same.





But, as a boy, where did you go to eat?

I liked the so-called “street food”, in particular that of the Mondello promenade overlooking the sea. There was a tavern there, where I went to get a kind of aperitif consisting of boiled octopus, cut and simply sprinkled with lemon juice, boiled egg, broad beans, sauteed broccoli, panelle, a great aperitif, for those times.


What did you drink on it?

The legendary “foam” because I was and am a teetotaler and I liked the foam very much and helped digestion. I took those flavors back and propose them on a plate of my buffets, here in Milan; customers like it very much.


Has your kitchen always been and is it only Sicilian? Don’t you make changes, creativity or inventions? Sorry, another question: was the absence of garlic and onion from your dishes a foil?

Absolutely not, to both questions; the first, since I started, I have always proposed the great Sicilian repertoire and also here in Milan, where I will soon be celebrating five years of stay, the clientele shows that they really like those flavors and, as you can see, the public is very numerous; for garlic and onion, since I was a child I didn’t love their taste and I never put them on the plates. Customers not only appreciate them, but they also often come back because, let’s face it, the flavors that I propose are those of the family that everyone has had or would have liked to have.


But, what do you propose, what is your goal?

I breathe Sicily from all pores and I would like everyone to breathe it like me and this stimulates me to move forward, with the same enthusiasm as when I started, first in Sicily, then in Rome and then in Milan.


By the way, how did you get started and how did you learn the secrets of cooking and its techniques?

I was already in Rome and I offered my kitchen to small groups, especially friends, one of them told me that some investors wanted to open a restaurant with me as a cook. I, frightened, said no, it was one thing to cook for a few and another to do it for customers with a “real” kitchen.


And how did it go?

They insisted and then came “Zagara”, my first restaurant: in the preliminary period, I massacred myself in studying “The restaurant” with the cooking techniques, the orders with the room service, the cellar, the equipment, the tableware, tableware, furnishings, linen … in short, a 24-hour dive to know everything; in the end, we opened and it was a success.


And then?

I understood that to improve I had to think big and I moved on to very important structures. In Rome I stayed for 17 years of uninterrupted success, which then took me to Milan, to measure myself with the city that everyone is talking about, in Italy and abroad as a concrete example for those who want success.



Filippo La Mantia and his brigade. Photo by Gianmarco Chierigato.


And how are you organized here?

I am fortunate to be able to count on a fantastic group of collaborators, at every level: a very efficient dining room service and, above all, a great kitchen brigade led by Gennaro Immobile, a young and very capable cook, for me, the true “chef” . Everything works wonderfully, in an atmosphere of great harmony, do you think that when I happen to be tense or nervous, I go to the kitchen to relax, what more could I want? Of course, you have to work a lot, a lot but this job is what I like to do and, despite the “Milanese rhythms”, the satisfactions are really many.



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