A Two-Michelin-starred Chef comes to Daphne’s Italian Restaurant
For Chef Michele Blasi, the goal is perfection. The Italian chef recently arrived at Daphne’s from London’s acclaimed Enoteca Turi, after working in fine dining restaurants from Singapore to Tokyo to Rajasthan and an extended period as a partner and Head Chef at two-Michelin-starred Sadler restaurant in Milan.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
— Cover: Michele Blasi, Executive Chef – Daphne’s
He was drawn to Barbados, like so many others, by the white sandy beaches and the promise of tropical paradise, but also by the challenge of turning Daphne’s Italian restaurant into one of the best restaurants on the island.
“For me, it’s important to give one perfect experience for every guest”, he says. “It’s not a job; it’s a passion. I’m a real Italian. We love to stay at the table. We love to eat with family and friends. We love cooking. It’s not just food for us.”
One of Blasi’s favourite parts of working around the world is exploring local markets and using what’s available to inspire his seasonal menu. “In Barbados, the local fish is amazing”, says Blasi. “We have tuna, red snapper, mahi-mahi, amberjack. We also have a very nice pork. One of the best chicken I tasted in my life is here because they’re free range. And sometimes we use local blackbelly lamb, which we stew like pork belly with red wine and vegetables, mince it and make a kind of ravioli called cappelleti that we sauté with pumpkin, butter and sage and serve with some toasted Parmesan croutons.”
Rest assured, however, that while he loves discovering local ingredients, the mozzarella di bufala and Parmigiano come from Italy. And finishing a meal at Daphne’s with a pink grapefruit and Campari icy granita is like tasting Sicilian sunshine.
Chef Blasi took a break before a private group arrived for a buffet dinner on the beach to speak with me about innovation in Italian cuisine, studying pastry with Alain Ducasse and when you’re allowed to add black truffle to a dish (and when you’re not).
Since you’ve arrived, you’ve updated the menu at Daphne’s. Are there some dishes that can never change?
There’s an evolution in Italian food. In Italy, you can find the traditional foods you eat at home in a rustic restaurant called a trattoria. At fine dining restaurants, they also prepare traditional dishes, but in a modern way. They mix classic ingredients with modern touches, which is what I like to do here. Like the grilled yellowfin tuna with garlic- and chilli-sautéed spinach, I add candied ginger on top. But if I make spaghetti with bolognese, you don’t put the truffle on the top. No. Bolognese is bolognese. Parmigiana is parmigiana.
You’re known for your starter size and main course home-made pastas and risottos, but you also have a classic eggplant and zucchini parmigiana; a summer Roman-style chicken saltimbocca with Parma ham, celeriac mash and fried artichokes; a beef tenderloin with red wine and mushroom sauce; and a grilled lobster with gnocchi. What are your favourite dishes?
I don’t have one plate that I love more than the other. Every plate is my baby.
What inspires you in the kitchen?
I love creating new recipes. When I come up with a plate, I try to remember all the flavour of when I was a child and my mother and grandmother cooked for me, but I present it in a modern way. For me it is very important to give a colour, flavour and fantasy in every dish. I soak foie gras of duck in Marsala wine for 36 hours then make it like salami with walnuts and raisins and we serve it with our confit orange.
How do you cook your catch of the day?
We use a wide range of fish for the day, like mahi-mahi, barracuda or snapper. We grill it blackened or plain and make a pizzaiola sauce of tomato sauce blended with capers, basil and red onion. We serve this sauce with quinoa boiled with lemon and afterwards we make a zucchini lyonnaise with sautéed zucchini, celery and carrots.
You also do pastry?
I think pastry is very important in the kitchen. I went to Paris and did a pastry course with Alain Ducasse. At Daphne’s, I like the passion fruit-filled pineapple ravioli with exotic fruit and vanilla ice cream.
How do you cater to guests with different tastes, from all over the world?
Here in Barbados, some guests stay for two months, but often you have guests that change every week. And sometimes the same plate you offer to one group will be too fine dining – I remember the beets with grappa-pear sauce – but some people said it was one of the best main courses they’d eaten.
Do you often come out of the kitchen to speak with guests?
Sometimes I’m very busy, but normally I like to go out and explain my menu to the guests. Some recipes are the same they’ve been offering here for years and the regular guests want those recipes. But if I see people in front of me who want to try a new experience or if they ask me, I like to give some options. I think it’s important for the guest to describe what they want because we try to cater to both.
Do you offer gluten-free and vegetarian options?
My menu is very rich in gluten-free and vegetarian options. We have gluten-free pasta and we can do a fresh pasta made with cassava if you call in advance.
Daphne’s has one of the most tranquil settings on the West Coast, with gorgeous views of the water. But do you get to enjoy the beach much yourself?
The best thing in Barbados is that, when I have the chance, I go to the beach. The weather is amazing. It’s priceless.
Modern Italian Food by the Sea