Discussing Italian Culinary Philosophy With Simone Scipioni, Masterchef Italy Winner

Yes, I asked the question on everyone’s mind… Do you like pineapple pizza?

As usual, during the Christmas holidays I’ve met family and friends to celebrate and, above all, ate like there’s no tomorrow. As if eating weren’t enough, during these holidays I also discussed about food with someone very special in the sector: Simone Scipioni, last season’s Masterchef Italy winner. He’s very young — he was born in 1996 —, he lives in Montecosaro, Marche, and he’s been so kind as to spend some time with me to answer my questions.

What’s it like to take part in and above all to win a competition such as Masterchef?

It was a great surprise to participate and experiencing the pleasure of winning was wonderful! It was a new situation for me, I was quite anxious and worried, but it’s been fun. I met many people and I was fully focused on the competition. I really couldn’t be more satisfied!

Have you watched other seasons of Masterchef, apart from the Italian ones?

I happened to watch a season of Masterchef USA, precisely the one that was won by an Italian contestant. Joe Bastianich was among the judges and he was identical: he also dubs himself into Italian and he’s very funny. Some of his expressions like “vuoi che muoro?” (do you want me to die?), are very famous. I also watched some episodes of Masterchef Australia and Masterchef Canada.

Did you find the judges rude? I’m asking you this because they seem to be the opposite of other judges such as those of Masterchef Australia, whose chefs are extremely nice and kind to the contestants.

You know, it’s a show, so they exaggerate on purpose. They’re doing their job. We only see each other on camera and, of course, we can’t go to dinner or hang out with them, because the production keeps us completely separate to avoid likes and dislikes. But I saw some friendly gestures and smiles, and I liked them all.

What’s your favorite dish?

Well, if you want to know what I like more than anything else, what I would eat all the time — be it breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner or midnight snack — I would say… pizza! I’m crazy about pizza. However, I don’t have one favorite dish. I like to eat homemade fresh pasta a lot, I love eating seafood although I prefer to cook meat. In general, I do eat everything.

And what dishes would you recommend to a foreigner who’s never tried Italian food?

The list would be very long! However, I’d certainly first recommend spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil. Then I would say vincisgrassi (a special kind of lasagne from Marche) and olive all’ascolana (ascolana olives), two dishes from my region. Lastly, tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth).

Can your culinary philosophy be summarized in the motto “simple is good”?

Actually, I like to create dishes that may be difficult to make but, at the end, seem easy. I think this is what makes the difference between a good and an excellent dish. Anyway, our traditional cuisine is based on simple ingredients, coming directly from our land.

Speaking of tradition… How important is it in cooking? Italy is rich in regional cuisine.

In my opinion, it is extremely important. I admit I’m not a “traditional chef”, although my cooking may have been interpreted in this way on TV. I mean that I don’t always prepare traditional dishes, even if I love eating them because they are healthy and savory. I’m inspired by different kinds of cuisines.

The use of simple, farm to table ingredients, such as tomatoes picked fresh from the garden, is what distinguishes our rich culinary tradition.

Marche, my region, is very heterogeneous, so there are many recipes and they change not only form town to town, but even from family to family. For example, everyone has their own version of sauce and everyone thinks that theirs is the right one… And the best one! These personal recipes may be different from one another, but they have something in common: they’re all good and traditional. Some regional dishes are now widespread throughout Italy. This happened to the olive all’ascolana, from the town of Ascoli Piceno. On the coast you can find many excellent seafood dishes, like brodetto. Also ciauscolo, a spreadable salami, is typical of my region.

So, how would you describe the Italian cuisine?

I would say it is varied, but with a fil rouge connecting all the different traditions of our land: this is the use of simple, farm to table ingredients such as tomatoes picked fresh from the garden or basil took from the pot. I think this is what distinguishes our rich culinary tradition.

We have talked about our tradition, but we must admit we Italians also eat a lot of food coming from other countries. Do you like any international cuisine in particular?

Of course, globalization has also touched the theme of food. I like international food: I regularly eat Chinese and Japanese food and I also like the traditional American cuisine. In fact, one of my favorite dishes is spaghetti with meatballs, which doesn’t exist here as is. In Abruzzo there’s a similar kind of pasta, but it’s cooked in the oven and the meatballs are very small. Also, the spaghetti with meatballs sauce is different, since it is seasoned with a lot of garlic and oregano. I’d also love to visit France to taste French cuisine, which I think is one of the best in the world.

I’d like to conclude by returning to pizza. It’s worth noting that we don’t make it the same way across Italy. For example, in our region there are some Neapolitan style pizzerias, but a thinner base is more popular here. What kind of pizza do you prefer? And the question on everyone’s mind… Do you like pineapple pizza?

I don’t have any preference. I simply like well-made pizza. That is to say that it should contain the right quantity of yeast and the dough must rise for an adequate time, otherwise, it’s indigestible. With regard to Hawaian pizza, I think that pineapple simply doesn’t go with pizza. It’s a matter of taste! I’m open to change in recipes, but only if this brings an improvement to the dish. Anyway, I like gourmet pizza!

Masterchef Italy
Simone and I right after the interview

While we were chatting before starting the interview, I asked him what his plans for the future were. He wisely told me that he wants to keep cooking and that Masterchef is only the starting point of his career: he wants to learn more.

It’s been nice to discover how unpretentious and grounded Simone is, so I can’t help but wish him the very best of luck and I hope he will succeed in everything he chooses to do with his special gift for cooking.