Hotel Il San Pietro is situated in arguably the most picturesque setting in the world – Positano, Italy. Along the Amalfi Coast, tucked into the rocky cliffside, rests this prominent, luxury hotel and its two restaurants, one of which, Zass, boasts a Michelin star. Chef Alois Vanlangenaeker has been the Executive Chef of Il San Pietro for 11 years. “I could have stayed in Belgium and had my private life there,” speculated Chef Vanlangenaeker. But instead he was drawn to a more international, public chef’s life, as “traveling is a passion.” Vanlangenaeker began his career at the age of 19, when he started working in a Michelin starred restaurant in his native Belgium. Then, he moved to France to work in Michel Guérard’s kitchen, also Michelin ranked. From there, he moved to Sant’Agata, Italy’s Don Alfonso 1890, his third Michelin restaurant. From Italy to Tokyo to Jean-Georges in New York City, Vanlangenaeker experienced it all before landing at his current position in Positano. His favorite place, it turns out, is Positano. “It is an amazing spot,” he shared. “We have a quality of life that a lot of people dream of.” Though the work is difficult because it is crammed into seven months of the year, “having the ocean in front of you, having beautiful weather and beautiful vegetables” are worth it. At Il San Pietro, many of these fresh vegetables are grown on the grounds.
Chef Vanlangenaeker enjoys spending his time (which is at a premium) with his girlfriend and going on walks with his two Irish setters. The chef also “loves photography” and spends time shooting and working in his darkroom. In the winter, he often works on cruise ships as a way of traveling while still cooking. Last year, for example, he traveled from Istanbul to Tokyo, Hawaii, Samoi, Kiribad, Fiji and Los Angeles on one ship. “Also in my spare time, I do things that normally chefs wouldn’t do,” Vanlangenaeker explained. Last year this meant doing social work in Africa with Doctors Without Borders.
Chef Vanlangenaeker offers an interesting experience to the traveler who visits Amalfi during the slower months: cooking lessons. It is “very important… that people say at the end ‘wow, I learned something and this I can do at home’” he explained, saying that there’s no point to him showing off as “you would be impressed but you would never try it at home.” The first lesson is how to make fresh pasta and pizza dough and the next is all about the sauce. On the menu? Spaghetti with vongole, truffle spaghetti and risotto marinated in grilled vegetables. I’ll have to add that to my Christmas wish list.
A Few Additional Questions…
RW: What is in your refrigerator at home?
AV: My girlfriend always says my fridge is crying. There’s nothing inside because during the season I never eat at home so there’s nothing, just a few bottles of still water for when I come home in the evening and that’s it – finished. Only in the winter there’s stuff inside. In the winter there’s lots of stuff: some good cheese. I have some stuff in the freezer for if I have guests – some good fish that I keep frozen in case I have, on my day off, guests coming so that I will have something to prepare.
RW: What is your favorite thing to eat?
AV: I like everything to eat, but it has to be fresh…tomatoes prepped in some basil, some olive oil and some salt.
RW: What is the best advice you could give to someone cooking at home?
AV: If you have a good product, try to keep things as simple as possible – good olive oil, good fish baking in a pan with a side of tomatoes. This could be delicious if you do it in a proper way.”
Originally published on cuative.com.