A PASSION FOR FOOD WOULD seem a fundamental prerequisite for any great chef, but after spending a captivating afternoon with Chef Cosimo Tripodi, I not only discovered a chef with a tremendous passion for food, but an all-embracing passion for life, love, family, people, art, adventure and the island paradise which he has called home for the past eleven years. Raised in Calabria, southern Italy, in a loving home by his mother, father and grandmother, he professes that he has had a fascination for food and cooking since he was a child. The only boy in his Italian home of five women, he was not allowed in the kitchen, becoming a game where he often tried to ‘sneak’ in, only to be chased away by his grandmother with a big wooden spoon. He fondly recalls the wonderful frittatas she used to make, and the sentimental fact that the pan she used all those years ago is now in his own kitchen, adding that his family exists as an ‘ingredient’ in all of his cooking today. At the age of 14, he attended Hotel Management School, spending summers training at hotels in the northern provinces, followed by an obligatory year in military service. Eager to pursue his passion for adventure, he travelled to England and began working as a sous chef at La Bussola, a high-end Italian restaurant. A year later, working aboard a cruise ship line based in Miami provided him the for tuitous opportunity to discover many Caribbean destinations, however, a propensity for seasickness would necessitate his return to Grand Cayman, an island discovered while cruising. His experiences originated with Ristorante Pappagallo, owned by a dear friend of his; he confesses, “A par t of me is always there.” With Grand Cayman as his base, he continued to travel the Caribbean including Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, dedicated to learning about the people, culture and customs, all influencing his life and his kitchen today. He established two successful restaurants in Grand Cayman, one featuring his native southern Italian flavours, the other Caribbean. In August of 1996, fate and a friend would deliver Cosimo to the Turks and Caicos Islands. He expresses an inexplicable connection upon seeing an advertisement in a 1995 Billfish Tournament magazine for Baccus, a nightclub/restaurant, housed in Provo's landmark ‘glass house.’ Providenciales was “love at first sight” - which he corrects himself to say “love at first bite!” He soon became the major shareholder and then owner of Bella Luna Ristorante which is housed in that same 'glass house' so convenient for dining, located in the very hear t of the Grace Bay area resor t developments. At Bella Luna, an outlet for his everevolving creativity for over a decade, Cosimo’s personal touches appear everywhere. Working with his hands goes far beyond the kitchen; the consummate handy man, he enjoys carpentry, decorating and refurnishing; he is an artisan, mosaicing with tile and glass and an ardent painter. His restaurant and his social life are one in the same, in that all his cherished friendships materialized and flourished as a result of first and foremost being Bella Luna guests. Even as a guest in the home of friends, Cosimo embraces the opportunity to create in their kitchens using whatever is available with what he calls, the ‘necessity of supplies.’ “My challenge, which I enjoy, is to go into places with possibilities. To open up the fridge and cook.” The Bella Luna philosophy of food preparation is very similar, in that every dish is prepared ‘a la minute,’ with no food ‘prep.’ With a seemingly effortless flair for total consistency, Chef Cosimo brings a Caribbean twist to the natural simplicity and traditions of his southern Italian roots, with an emphasis on healthier foods with robust flavours using an abundance of tomatoes, garlic, sharp cheeses, olives and herbs including oregano and basil, and favouring four basic sauces. These earthy, Mediterranean key ingredients ‘open up your stomach’ and are easy to digest, even more so when paired with his fine and extensive selection of wines. Having finished his private dining room, The Venus Room, and his Italian Garden Pizzeria, I suggested with all of his ambitious and ongoing projects he should clone himself. He heartily laughed and said, "It would be very dangerous! I’m a dreamer" he quips. "If you're passionate, you have to be passionate about everything." A pleasure to discover that Cosimo can never imagine a time in his life when he will not be working … he confesses that his great accomplishment is in the simplicity of this … that he prepared foods to the best of his ability, that his guests, many of whom are his friends, enjoyed and had fun … that the food was good and they would come back for more.
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