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From the Table to the Heart

From the Table to the Heart

Sheila Manalac
30 October 2023

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Capella Ubud’s Culinary Director Chef Nicola Russo brings passion to the table with his worldwide inspirations

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Coming from the cultural city of Pisa, Italian-born chef Nicola Russo has developed high standards fit for a property such as Capella Ubud. With his worldwide travels and over 20 years of experience in the culinary industry, Chef Nicola’s position as the leader of Capella Ubud’s culinary team is truly fitting.

Chef Nicola joined Capella Ubud in January 2020 as executive chef, and after 3 years, the former Michelin-starred chef was promoted to Culinary Director. He oversees all areas in the Food and Beverage department, from service, finance and the kitchen.

“It was an interesting time for me to join Capella, as it was just about the time that the pandemic started. It was quite unfortunate that the business and tourism had taken a downturn, but I used this time to invest in myself, to adapt, and to learn everything about the property,” Nicola said, emphasizing the importance of constant self-improvement and development in all aspects of his life.

The celebrated chef shares the same vision as Capella—a luxury hotel in the middle of the Keliki Valley just outside of Ubud, that focuses on a different level of magnificence, bringing an experience to its guests that is truly genuine and one-of-a-kind.

“One of the most important things for me is our guests. I oversee all the aspects of F&B, but to me, one of the most important things is to show guests that we care about their experience.” His passion for cooking indeed comes from the heart, and his career grew tremendously having followed his passion for cooking, paired with his tenacity to learn techniques in the kitchen, and eventually develop his own style and palate.

“It’s all about the taste. You can have talent and technique, but food is primarily about taste, food has to be good.”

After graduating from the culinary institute Ipscat G. Matteotti, he sought to further develop his own creativity. During his apprenticeship, he worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels.

His first culinary experience began in Italy, as an apprenticeship at the Michelin-starred Il Pellicano. At the young age of 18, this seemed like an initiation of fire, learning from a massive kitchen setup with the highest food standards.

“My first experience had a big impact on me. I needed to adapt to long hours, it had a very selective ambiance. I was working 12-14 hours a day. It was  a tough start, the kind of experience that shows the level of hospitality.”

“Having that difficult experience has solidified my desire to be in this industry… and I am still here.”

At 33, he moved to Hong Kong for his first chef de cuisine role in the fine dining restaurant Tosca at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. Tosca garnered a Michelin Star Rating in 2018 and 2019, under chef Nicola’s stewardship.

“It was an honor to receive a Michelin Star, but this honor was not just for me. This accolade goes to the entire team and the restaurant. I was lucky to work for The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. The Michelin Star was just a plus.”

Chef Nicola points out that although receiving a Michelin Star is an honor, there are plenty of amazing chefs and dining destinations worldwide that are well-deserving of recognition.

“Michelin is not everywhere, it’s not worldwide. There are many exceptional chefs who are also deserving of such awards.”

After 20 years in the culinary industry, he still remains passionate about cooking, regarding this as a creative pursuit that entails knowledge and technique.  “I really like art, I am passionate about art and I look for inspiration in art. I use my creativity to think of different dishes and also to interact with guests in all aspects of my life. But in my job 50% is creativity, and the rest is knowing the basics and technique is equally important.”

Today, Chef Nicola continues to oversee every aspect related to F&B at Capella Ubud. While Mads Lange remains to be the property’s all-day dining, he describes the fine dining destination Api Jiwa as his “baby” that he’s developed through the years.

A unique 10-course degustation Omakase-inspired concept, Chef Nicola describes his process as one that is creative—from his travels all over Asia, and in consideration of local ingredients and flavors that are available on the island.

“My style of cooking has changed through the years. With Api Jiwa, we reinvented the concept to have more of an Asian influence. There are so many good ingredients available in Asia. We also want to highlight nature and work with local suppliers.”

With his promotion to Culinary Director, his focus is now more on leadership and developing people. It’s about the culinary side of the whole resort. However, he says that his passion only grows stonger.

“My passion for cooking never goes away. I am a competitive person and I always look for new challenges.”

One of the dishes he is proud of is Telur Rebus, their own rendition of the Egg Chawanmushi, a creamy egg custard with succulent crab meat. Another is the Gulai Kambing, a refined version of a local lamb curry.

Chef Nicola aims to bring international flavors locally, opening up different creative ideas to the Capella Ubud staff, while serving locally sourced ingredients to the international market.

“Although Capella Ubud  is not a huge property, we all have the same vision: a personalized service that truly takes care of guests, aiming to create something new and unforgettable for them.”

When he’s not in the kitchen, he makes sure that his physical and mental well-being is cared for. With the demands of his job, he wants to be in shape for whatever challenges come his way.

With technique and creativity, Chef Nicola Russo brings his passion to the table and to the hearts of guests at Capella Ubud.

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