Chef Carlos brings flavours from the Med to East Belfast
Carlos Capparelli, a former head chef at two high-end restaurants in London of celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi, has set up a food business in Belfast and is planning a quality eatery outside the city that will specialise in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine.
Carlos (38) is already creating delicious and original dishes under his own Capparelli Cooks brand for food distributors and delis in the Belfast area. The flavour rich dishes are based on his on extensive experience at Ottolenghi’s Nopi in Soho and Rovi in Fitzrovia, near the West End, two highly regarded eateries, over 10 years.
“I loved working with Yotam Ottolenghi because of his tremendous passion for premium ingredients and stunning Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flavours,” says Carlos. “I gained massively from his culinary excellence, customer focus and his business acumen over the years with him. He was a real pleasure to work with in the kitchen and a great mentor. In addition to seven restaurants, he also sells a wide range of quality foods through a string of delis and has a series of acclaimed cookbooks.”
Originally from near Sao Paulo, one of the biggest cities in Brazil that’s also known for its outstanding food, Carlos grew up with a background in the hospitality industry.
His mother ran a successful catering operation and father is a well-respected restaurateur. His parents have Italian heritage which also influenced the career direction he chose.
He studied culinary arts and decided to travel after college and first visited relatives in Bergamo, near Milan, a city famed for its casoncelli alla bergamasca, a classic Mediterranean pasta dish. Carlos subsequently travelled to Madrid and gained a post as a chef there in a typical Spanish restaurant specialising in unique tapas dishes. He spent two years as a chef in the Spanish capital.
Carlos also met and subsequently married Lucie there, a Belfast girl who was taking a year out to travel from her marketing studies at Leeds University. They then set up in London a city Carlos had set his sights on visiting to broaden his culinary experience. It was there that Carlos completed his formal culinary education, gaining an advanced diploma in culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway College in 2012 and then a degree in culinary arts at London South Bank University two years later.
Carlos joined the Ottolenghi group as head chef in February 2012 after stints in various kitchens, including a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, while he completed his degree. He helped to create original dishes at Ramsay’s famed but now closed Michelin star Maze restaurant on London’s Grosvenor Square. It has since been rebranded successfully as Gordon Ramsay’s Bar and Grill.
Carlos quickly moved up the Ottolenghi group to become executive chef and gained knowledge of and expertise in menu development, food preparation and restaurant management.
“What I also enjoyed with Yotam was that he wasn’t obsessed with culinary techniques. Flavour and especially those from different combinations count most with him. He’s a great teacher and inspirational innovator,” Carlos continues. “It was a marvellous experience, for instance, to work with him at Rovi in Soho, a really novel venture that was centred on vegetables. His objective was to celebrate vegetables or pulses in his dishes.
“I’ve been carrying forward this experience in the dishes I am currently creating for Capparelli Cooks in Belfast, such as Lasagne di Carne, Moussaka and Aubergine Parmigiana, and will continue to do so when the restaurant opens next year.”
He says the family – they now have two daughters aged four and one - had always intended to set up home Belfast in time. “The decision to relocate, however, was brought forward by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in the hospitality sector in London,” Carlos continues. “The shock made me look at how I could take greater control over my own career and led me to focus my energies on creating my own restaurant.”
The family set up home in the vibrant Ballyhackamore community in east Belfast.
His first stage in the journey towards the restaurant was to access a small commercial kitchen, near Belfast, and to start producing his own range of classic Mediterranean/Middle Eastern ready-to-cook meals for home distribution and sale through local delis such as Two Sisters in Ladas Drive, Neighbourfood on the Newtownards Road and the Italian takeaway and food store Buon Appetito (a local online Italian deli, with a stall at St George’s Market on Saturdays. Visit: www.buonappetitodeli.com.) His meals are now also being distributed by LocalBoxNI, a successful delivery service specialising in local food.
Planning for the exciting new restaurant is also at an advanced stage. A location outside Belfast has been identified and a stylish eatery should be ready to open its doors early next year. Influenced by Ottolenghi, Carlos plans to feature a store selling his food and other local products as part of the overall development. And it promises a very substantial boost to the local food scene.
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