Cooking for the stars: Chef Salvatore Meo

Salvatore Meo always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father. He wanted to have his own restaurant, making authentic Italian dishes for the locals to appreciate. What he didn’t expect was to become an international success, cooking food for presidents, filmmakers, celebrities, and more.

While growing up in Lecce, Italy, cooking was Meo’s one passion. He always felt that cooking was a way to express creativity. While making classic Italian food, he found a way to express himself. However, unlike his father, he decided to expand his horizons beyond the borders of Italy, and moved to Germany to bring his food and share his culture abroad. He has shared his knowledge with his employees and his customers, always achieving success.

“I’ve learned from Salvatore to always be conscious of your surroundings. Make sure you always carry your chef’s vision when making first class dishes,” said sous chef Carlo Centonze, who worked alongside Meo at Trattoria Fornaretto.

Meo has owned and operated a series of popular Italian restaurants in Germany, including Trattoria Fornaretto, Ristorante Rossini Bischoscheim, Restaurant Zum Nudeldunker, and Ristorante Rossini Floersheim. There is little he cannot achieve.

“Experience, dedication, and the ability to handle a fast-moving industry are the most important aspects of starting your own restaurant. Overall though, I think it’s your origin of where you are from that allows you to take that wherever you go. My origin is why I like cooking,” said Meo.

As owner of the restaurant Restaurant Zur Ratsstube, Meo was in charge of every aspect of the cooking and management. He hired the staff, took care of payroll, and created the menu with his own original recipes. He also had the freedom to choose what products he wanted to work with, so he was able to build and create the menus he wanted to serve. He wanted to work with fresh products that he was able to purchase locally and farm grown or raised. The good quality had a very positive improvement to the dishes he cooked and purchasing local products helped stimulating the economy. At the time however, despite vast experience cooking, it was his first time actually owning a restaurant.

“Naturally it was exciting and scary at the same time. It was in a different country, I didn’t speak the language very well and I already had a family to support, but I fell in love with the area it was in. The Rhineland in Germany is known for its many wineries and the wine it produces. It had a very rustic ambient with a good quality kitchen and accommodations that allowed me to run my restaurant and have my family nearby,” said Meo. “The area was interesting because it resembled the part of Italy I came from with the wineries. Local wineries and wines was the foundation and the inspiration to create German and Italian Dishes that I was able to pair with the local wines. People enjoyed that because they were able to enjoy good food that was cooked and prepared with local products and paired with wine they already knew and loved.”

Building Restaurant Zur Ratsstube from the ground up did not come without its challenges. With a friendly and family style and a German and Italian country mix, Meo was bringing Italian cooking to Germany, and wanted to build a good reputation in community. He achieved his goal, as Gimbsheim was a small town that really had no Italian restaurants. Meo was bringing something new and exciting to the well-established community. People enjoyed the southern Italian food and frequently came back.

In working the new country, Meo learned a lot about German culture and cuisine. It helped him improve the way he ran a business and how he cooked.

“Learning what German people appreciate in food helped me improve the quality of my food,” he said.

Because it was new and unique and one of the first to be established in the community, the combination of a rustic German kitchen mixed with a Mediterranean kitchen was extremely interesting, and people responded well what Meo had to offer. For his first restaurant, he achieved what many do in a single lifetime, and it set up the base for his now esteemed career. Despite such success, however, it is no longer just his passion for cooking that motivates Meo.

“My kids made me realize that working hard and doing what you love to do for a better quality of life is important. Although my kids chose a different profession, they both work hard to achieve their dreams and I have passed down my passion for Italian cuisine, which both of them incorporate at home in their kitchens,” he concluded.

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