A chat with Raffaele Alajmo
Excellence and attention to detail in one of the most outstanding family-run culinary businesses in Italy.
The Alajmo family currently owns 13 restaurants, all of which are successful, fashionable, of outstanding quality, and driven by a relentless quest of excellence. Guests of the Alajmo family first and foremost feel at ease, like at home -of a friend who cooks well-, pampered, and relaxed. At peace with the rest of the world.
In 2002, Massimiliano Alajmo became the youngest chef in the world to achieve three Michelin stars for their restaurant, “Le Calandre”; in addition to that, the Alajmo brothers currently own “Il Calandrino” and “In.Gredienti” in Sarmeola di Rubano; “Quadrino”, “Grancaffè Quadri” and the “Quadri” restaurant in Piazza San Marco in Venice; “Amo” in Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice; “Hostaria in Certosa” on the island of Certosa in Venice; “Le Clementine”, “Amor” and “Al4 Pizza at H-Farm” in Treviso, the “Caffè Stern” at the Passage des Panoramas in Paris and finally the “Sesamo” at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech.
Leading this empire of 220 employees for over 15 million in revenue in 2019 is that genius of Massimiliano (Max) Alajmo, a unique talent in the minimalist interpretation of the flavors of the Italian cuisine. Together with his brother Raffaele (Raf), CEO and maître des lieux of the Alajmo group, Max supervises the gastronomic product line and an events company alongside with the kitchens of 13 restaurants in Padua, Venice, Paris and Marrakech.
After an awful year and half in which the Alajmo family resisted with symbolic gestures – such as opening a new pop-up summer restaurant in La Certosa Island (VE) -, Raffaele takes stock of the company’s situation with the healthy optimism of somebody who has always done things right, while also admitting some fear for the future uncertainties.
“The truth is that we felt abandoned by the government. Debts, difficult conditions, little or no paid personnel… The crisis led to an alarming employee shortage. Other European nations have established some sort of safety net; in Italy, we were only forced to shut down our businesses and go into debt”.
What is your group’s current situation?
“We are a little bit concerned because the Delta variant is no joke and we are now hiring to be ready for the definitive restart. However, we never stopped trying to see this crisis as an opportunity and we found the strength and courage to expand our business.
We conducted an in-depth self-analysis to determine what was working and what wasn’t in our company. We’ve developed new opportunities and put them into action; now we’re waiting to see if they’re a success. Tastes, like trends, are always changing, aided by a prosperous year of delivery that has allowed many people to taste fine food at home.
Personally, I foresee a boom in haute cuisine and I believe that the physical restaurants’ allure will grow in the near future”.
Perhaps with an emphasis on environmental sustainability?
“I think COVID-19 has nothing to do with ecology; green and eco-sustainable issues were already prominent themes in the restaurant industry. There was already a strong drive and effort to conserve fish and wildlife, as well as agriculture. We can’t put off dealing with these challenges for much longer since global warming is exacerbating the situation.
The natural tendency to protect the environment may be even older in the wine industry, and I think it has become a trend worth monitoring in recent years. Nevertheless, I do not believe it will lead to a totally organic selection. Many people are interested in it since it is a hot topic right now, however most organic products have flaws ranging from certification to authorized processes.In the end, the “organic” label is all that matters; I’m not sure how much actual profound awareness there is”.
What are your favourite wine producers at the moment?
“Definitely Gravner and Valentini. I’ve known Josko for 35 years, and he’s changed his production philosophy on several occasions, including when he eliminated steel and switched to wood, when he skipped a year of sales because he was aware that his wine needed to mature a year longer, and when he admitted that completely removing sulfur was a mistake because sulfur helped to preserve wine. Today, he works with buried amphorae, and his wines stand out among thousands of others; the grapes he uses are healthy and free of toxins, but with a hint of sulfur. Sipping one of his wines instantly makes you feel better”.
And what about km 0 sustainability (which is also gaining popularity)?
“I think that cultivating a vegetable garden for a restaurant is no joke. We have numerous gardens linked to particular restaurants, but in places like our restaurant Calandre we don’t have that possibility, so we rely on farmers who grow high-quality organic products.
Always go for quality, focusing on freshness, authenticity, and, if possible, seasonality”.
What advice would you give to fellow restaurateurs for the recovery?
“I would tell them to travel light and be cautious with their investments because no one has our backs at the moment and nobody knows what will happen this winter. It’s crucial to have at least a backup plan; nothing is easy or certain nowadays”.
Is your brother Massimiliano of the same mind?
“We are two sides of the same coin, with different points of view but the same goals. We love each other, and this is the backbone of our relationship. We have opposing but complementary perspectives, which leads us to make strategic decisions with white and black points. Regardless, we are hopeful and certain that working with passion and dedication will pay off.
Furthermore, if Draghi is willing to assist us, the Italian style and culture will be unmatched in the world; we are certainly the best”.