Da Vittorio Saigon’s Executive Chef Matteo Fontana Is Stirring Up History

“Without doubt, the first thing I would have is my grandmother’s La Cassuela Alla Milanese, a pork and cabbage stew. And then a feast in any good seafood restaurant. And then, a huge Fiorentina steak,” Matteo Fontana decides when we ask him what’s the first thing he’d eat on a trip back home to Italy. But that might be some time away, as the executive chef is busy overseeing the expansion of the Italian fine dining institution Da Vittorio into Vietnam.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

It’s a big deal. Da Vittorio choose their locations carefully. There’s the one in Brusaporto, in Lombardy, Italy. And there’s St. Moritz. Then there’s Shanghai, which opened in May 2019. And now, there’s Saigon. 

This year, that Shanghai location, under Executive Chef Stefano Bacchelli was awarded 29th place in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. And Da Vittorio has become adept at gathering Michelin Stars along the way (with eight so far and counting).

Matteo Fontana Da Vittorio
Milan-born Da Vittorio Saigon’s Executive Chef, Matteo Fontana.

Da Vittorio Saigon’s Modern Traditions Are A Family Affair

Reassuringly, Da Vittorio is still a family business. Vittorio Cerea, the patriarch of the family, established the level of excellence and hospitality that has become hallmarks of the name, when he opened the first Da Vittorio, with his wife Signora Bruna Cerea, in 1966 in the center of Bergamo. Today, Bruna and her five children, Enrico, Francesco, Barbara, Roberto and Rossella, run the Da Vittorio restaurants which also include New Wave at Shanghai’s UCCA Centre for Contemporary Art, and DAV, the ​​trattoria di pesce, which has two locations in Portafino and Milan, introducing modern culinary techniques to maintain the brand’s dynamism and vitality.

Their opulent Saigon restaurant, tucked neatly into the underbelly of the Reverie Hotel and Times Square, has already been called the most exciting new restaurant in Vietnam

That’s some pressure, with so much heritage and acclaim to follow on from and live up to. “Oh wow,” Matteo shakes his head, “there’s pressure, of course. But in all my years as a chef, I’ve learnt strategies to handle it – like having a life outside of the restaurant, which my wife and my friends help with. And then there’s the frequent yoga sessions.” 

“But most of all,” he adds thoughtfully, “I feel a sense of pride that the Cerea family have entrusted me with this opportunity to represent them in Saigon.”

Matteo finishing off Da Vittorio Saigon’s homemade plin raviolini stuffed with braised duck legs, served with carbonara espuma and crispy guanciale.

Select The Best Ingredients And Your Work Is Already Half Done

After leaving his hometown of Milan, Matteo Fontana joined Circo Restaurant, part of Le Cirque Group, in Abu Dhabi, before staying with the group and moving to their restaurants at The Leela Mumbai and The Leela Palace Bengaluru. “I fell in love with Arabic and Lebanese cuisine – the fresh bread and indelible flavors – and Indian cuisine, which is still one of my favorites,” Matteo remembers. But then, in 2020, he returned to Italy, and Brusaporto, for his two-year initiation with Da Vittorio.

During his career, he got to work with people like Ciccio Sultano, one of Sicily’s most beloved chefs. “That was right at the beginning of my career,” Matteo Fontana remembers. “The things he taught me, which have now become ingrained in my culinary philosophy, took some time to understand. He was a proponent of the idea that if you select the best ingredients, your work is already half done. I carry that with me now and I always compel my teams to look for the best products, and always strive to be the best chef you can be…and be open to learning new things.” 

And so here at Da Vittorio Saigon, their signature paccheri pasta includes organic tomatoes sourced from Dalat, and the langoustine comes with beetroot, burrata and sits on a bed of thiên lý flowers.

Da Vittorio's langostine
Da Vittorio Saigon’s langoustine with beetroot, burrata and thiên lý flowers.

An Ambassador Of Italian Cuisine 

Today, Matteo speaks with the enthusiasm of an ambassador of Italian cuisine, which is something he’s become during all those years. 

“For many people around the world, Italian cuisine is still synonymous with pizza and pasta,” Matteo shrugs. “But that’s absolutely not true. Italian cuisine has everything from appetizers, cheeses, main courses, and desserts…okay and there’s pasta and pizza too,” he laughs. “I feel there’s just an amazing and unique variety of ingredients and ways of preparing them in Italy, and there’s so much diversity from the north of Italy right down to the south,” Matteo concludes.

Da Vittorio has always taken an iconoclastic approach to their cuisine. They shunned the carnivorous inclinations of Italian diners at the original Da Vittorio by offering a menu centered around creative fish dishes – something that continues in their menus today with dishes like that langostine with beetroot and their uovo all’uovo, or egg à la egg, served as a Martini glass of different eggs that’s theatrically topped off with a spoonful of Beluga caviar.

Da Vittorio's egg à la egg
Da Vittorio’s uovo all’uovo, or egg à la egg.

Stirring Up A Part Of Da Vittorio’s History

And, contrary to another misconception that Da Vittorio must be all stuffy, white-tablecloth fine dining, at one point the staff hand out bibs – admittedly fine woven ones with the Da Vittorio insignia and the words ‘oggi sono goloso’ meaning ‘today I’m greedy’ embroidered on them – and Executive Chef Matteo Fontanto appears tableside to stir up and then serve their splashy paccheri pasta. 

“That dish is very special,” Matteo smiles, “as it appears on the menu of all the Da Vittorio restaurants. Back in Bergamo, it’s usually done by a member of the Cerea family.” 

pacchieri pasta at Da Vittorio
“No, no matter how many times I do it in a night, it [serving our paccheri pasta] never gets boring. It’s all pleasure and emotions as I get to stir up a part of Da Vittorio’s history.”

We wonder if he ever tires of stepping out of the kitchen to serve it. “No, no matter how many times I do it in a night, it never gets boring. It’s all pleasure and emotions as I get to stir up a part of Da Vittorio’s history,” he smiles.

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