Luca Pintus has had quite the interesting career characterized by years spent cooking up fantastic spreads aboard several luxury cruise ships to now serving at the helm of Tribe Hotel’s kitchen.
Whoever dubbed conversation an art form must have been strolling through a piazza in Italy. Italians do, after all, have a very animated way of speaking and would probably deem gestures worth a thousand words. For Lucca, Executive Chef at Tribe Hotel, the only betrayal of his roots would be his accent, his flair for dramatic body language possibly having been subdued by years living away from home. With his buzz cut and black cyberbite piercing, I get the sense that this 34 year old chef has quite the sense for adventure.
Lucca has been in Kenya for 4 years with only 6 months at Tribe Hotel. At 15, he would head off to a family friend’s restaurant after classes to do odd jobs like cleaning, eventually going off to culinary school- an organic progression. He has since spent a lot of time working between Italy, Cologne, Berlin, France, and even on cruise ships for several years. His last employer on board was controversial Formula 1 tycoon Flavio Briatore who owned a superyacht. Known for his love for the finer things in life and a jet setter lifestyle in the world’s most luxurious locations, the Italian billionaire businessman set up Billionaire Resort Malindi. He brought in Lucca to work at the resort, and the chef in turn fell in love with Kenya and has never left.
I am curious about life as a chef aboard a luxury cruise ship, and a superyacht for that matter. Lucca tells me about this one time they were sailing somewhere around the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. His boss was expecting some VIP guests like Google cofounder Sergey Brin and his wife. Having been sailing for a while, they had ran out of some items and the closest port would take 3 days to sail to. Instead, they had caviar shipped from London into Miami and together with a single crate of broccoli, these two items were brought and dropped to them by a helicopter.
With such excitement and spontaneity at sea, does he miss being back on land? “Sometimes I do. It’s an adventure, but it’s good to be settled on land. I’ve gone back to my dream of being a chef in a hotel and I love this way of living,” he responds. “ We are constantly customizing and changing our menus and there are always new things to do. Just recently, we had an Amuse Bouche night with a 7-course menu. We’re proposing a 12 course menu for New Year’s eve so that should be exciting.”
Lucca confesses to having a soft spot for French food, although he is always experimenting, mixing styles and cuisine. He is very keen on Molecular cuisine, and doesn’t like making classic Italian food unless he’s at home. When presented with a plate from his kitchen, it is very clear that he has a penchant for presentation and likes to play around with texture and temperature. An example is the Surf n’ Turf on their menu, but it couldn’t be further from your usual. First, the prawns are poached in local black tea with leaves from Limuru. The beef is cured with salt, sugar, spices like cardamom and black pepper- for 2 hours. It is accompanied by a tartar sauce mixed with miso and Japanese mayo. Everything is served with Daikon radish- both cooked and raw. They also do a thick tea reduction where it emulsifies with oil and sesame till it reaches the consistency of mayonnaise, but tastes like tea. Add wild rockets and sweet leaves and what you get is different textures, colours, an explosion of flavours- and your mouth will love it.
“So what are you doing this Christmas?” I ask. “I will be in the kitchen…cooking.” He responds matter-of-factly.
Chef’s tip: If you don’t cook often, keep your dishes fresh and simple this festive season. Everywhere you look, everyone’s coming up with different techniques. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you may for instance ruin a perfectly good fish fillet.