Where Chefs Eat: Luigi Calcagno

The Chef Of Monti In Singapore Tells Us His Favourite Dishes And Restaurants Around The World.

By John Lim

Born in Rome and raised in Luxembourg, Chef Luigi Calcagno has come a long way in establishing himself as a contemporary Italian chef and restaurateur in Southeast Asia. His venture into this part of the world began in 2009, when he took up a job with Ifiori Restaurant in Kuta, Bali, after which he took the bold step to open Zibiru Restaurant in 2012, followed by its offshoot, Bottega Italiana Canggu in 2015.

Executive Chef Luigi Calcagno

“It’s a great set up – the architecture brings back a little of the nostalgia of Old Bali,” Luigi said in an interview in Indonesia Expat about Zibiru. “I was looking for a space that would communicate three elements: old Bali, authenticity and cosiness, like the comforting feeling of being in a convivial place.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Luigi took another big step in 2016 by opening Monti on Fullerton Pavilion, Singapore. There, he introduces diners to his brand of contemporary Italian cuisine in a cosmopolitan setting, complete with a cocktail bar, DJ consoles that pump out house music on weekend nights, and an amazing view of the Marina Bay.

On the menu, meanwhile, are dishes that combine traditional Italian and modern European techniques, such as Signor Monti (grilled monkfish fillet wrapped in pancetta); La Signora Luciana (baby squid in cherry tomato broth mixed with olives and basil) and the risotto cacio e pepe (pictured, above), which is finished in a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, and topped with black truffle.

We managed to get Luigi on the line to find out more about his favourite restaurants, dishes, and approach to cooking.

Aside from your own restaurant, what’s your favourite eating spot?
I’m still new to Singapore, but so far, that would have to be Culina (in Dempsey)Garibaldi, and the newly opened The Summerhouse. What I appreciate about these places are their premium-quality ingredients; I’m like a kid in the general store at Culina — there are so many amazing products to choose from! And The Summerhouse has an edible garden, where they grow many of their own ingredients.

Tell us about a dish served in your restaurant that best sums up your approach to cooking.
If I have to pick one just one, it would no doubt be pasta alla norcina with generous shavings of truffles. My approach is inspired by memories, by the art of shaping dough, and by seeing cast iron pots long forgotten in a corner of the kitchen calling out to be used.

If we could get you an air ticket to a restaurant of your choice anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would definitely go back to Auberge de la Klauss in Montenach, France, Satou in Tokyo, and a small little gas station in Perugia, Italy which I call ‘la donnina dei tre archi.’ They have the best agnolotti pasta with asparagus and rabbit stew.

What’s the best dish you’ve ever had?
My girlfriend’s omelettes. They’re made with love.

Where do you go for late-night bites?
I love the local food here. Nothing beats frog legs in Sin Ma, Geylang or a mean nasi padang in the wee hours of the morning.

What do you cook at home?
It really depends on my mood, but I enjoy taking requests. It’s satisfying to be able to effortlessly whip up a meal standing on one leg with one eye closed that satiates the stomachs of friends and family.

What would you consider your perfect comfort food dish?
A large bowl of pastina in brodo! It’s basically the Italian version of chicken soup: tiny bits of pasta in chicken broth with shredded eggs and of course, a healthy pour of extra virgin olive oil. It brings back fond memories of childhood at my mother’s and grandmother’s house in Italy.

Zibiru Restaurant

Zibiru is an Italian restaurant in Seminyak, Bali founded by Luigi Calcagno in 2012. Zibiru offers farm to table regional cuisine in a traditional Balinese setting. Dinner 5pm - 12am. Live jazz: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. Live opera: Thursday.