Ambassadors for Italy - and Aberdeen
With the restaurant sector growing fast in Scotland, Peppe Lepre, owner and head chef of traditional Italian restaurant Ciao Napoli, based in Aberdeen, discusses the changes he has seen in the industry, and why eating out locally is more important than ever.
CIAO NAPOLI HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS NOW. WHAT ARE THE MAJOR CHANGES YOU HAVE SEEN OVER THE PAST DECADE REGARDING FOOD AND DRINK?
The food and drink culture in Aberdeen has changed dramatically. People are now much more aware about what they are eating and the importance of using local, high quality produce is vital.
There was a time when people used to go out for a leisurely dinner and really indulge in the restaurant experience, but nowadays people often choose to eat at home due to a number of factors including supermarket dine-in deals.
WHY DO YOU THINK IT HAS CHANGED?
People’s perceptions of food and drink has changed. With supermarkets telling the public what different types of cuisine are supposed to be, they don’t understand why some items aren’t on our menu.
Every region in Italy boasts dishes, which are entirely unique to that specific area. At Ciao Napoli, we specialise in cuisine from Naples in the south, which is known for fish and fresh pasta dishes. Unfortunately supermarkets brainwash customers into thinking their jarred sauces are ‘true Italian cuisine’ when in fact, they are not.
It’s important that as ambassadors for Italy, we show people what high quality, good Italian food should taste like.
WILL CHAIN RESTAURANTS BE THE DEATH OF THE ARTISAN, AUTHENTIC EATERIES?
Absolutely not. Both types of restaurant have completely different offerings and styles. Take Ciao Napoli for example. We source all our produce locally, employ local staff who have extensive industry knowledge, we are passionate about our offering, and cook all of our homemade dishes from scratch.
We work extremely hard to ensure our authentic experience is memorable, and see new diners joining our following of loyal customers. Artisan restaurants want customers to experience a relaxing, well catered for dining experience, something some eateries don’t offer.
Our food is of the highest standards and ensuring that it is healthy and free of processed and unrefined ingredients is fundamentally important to us.
Around 80 years ago scientists started looking into genetically modified foods, restructuring their DNA, changing foods completely, so much so that now many people have developed intolerances to certain foods. By using fresh produce we know we are providing healthy dishes to diners.
DO YOU THINK THERE HAS BEEN A RECENT CHANGE IN THE DINING HABITS OF THE PUBLIC?
Recent research showed that restaurants were the fastest growing sector in Scotland last year. With over 4,067 active restaurants in Scotland in January 2016, an increase of over 330 from the previous year, it is clear that people are still looking for something bespoke and different when dining out.
Aberdeen has a huge restaurant offering although many people would believe it doesn’t. Edinburgh and Glasgow are food and drink havens and I believe it is time to put Aberdeen on the food and drink map, carrying on from the fantastic promotion and opportunities the Year of Food and Drink brought to the country last year.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF ABERDEEN AND ITS FOOD AND DRINK OFFERING?
Aberdeen has a fantastic character, and the food and drink industry is an important part of that, so it’s vital that the public support local businesses to safeguard the sector over the coming years. The city is vibrant and full of life, exactly like the food and drink industry and I hope to see many more businesses flourish, bringing a wealth of new concepts.
Owning a successful restaurant can be very challenging, however, Ciao Napoli is one of the most rewarding achievements I have accomplished in my life.
I’ve worked for over 30 years as a chef and I still strive to ensure that I learn something new everyday.
Peppe’s five favourite meals
Any fish dish especially shellfish or fish on the bone – there’s nothing tastier than tucking into a beautifully cooked fish using your hands.
Slow-cooked rabbit with fresh rosemary, cherry tomatoes and potatoes served with white wine is one of my favourites to cook at home.
Fresh fruit, especially watermelon, is delicious. Great for cleansing the palette.
Octopus with salad or slow-cooked octopus stew with capers, parsley and cherry tomatoes, bellissimo.
Polpettone al Ragu – a delicious Italian meatloaf – stuffed with mozzarella and ham one of my favourite dishes in the restaurant.