“As a kid, I liked to understand how things worked. I’d take things apart – the phone, the toaster – and put them back together. Sure, they’d still work.” This curiosity led Pasquale to study engineering in New Jersey, with a specialisation in road security and start his career working for Somerset county. In 2001 his team were called in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and again after hurricane Katrina. But none of this explains how he arrived on the podium of one of the world’s most prestigious gastronomy competitions, the Bocuse d’Or Switzerland in November 2021…
“Well, I loved cars. And so did my college classmate from Rutgers University. Years after graduating and many long-distance discussions later, we decided to set up a tuning shop in his hometown of Geneva, Switzerland. It only lasted for a couple of months but I liked it here, so I stayed.” Thanks to various elective courses during his college years and previous work experience, Pasquale took on jobs as a consultant giving HR management and language courses. In the evenings, he began to revisit some classic parmigiana and pasta recipes that his Italian grandmothers and aunts had cooked him as a child.
Pasquale took the pastime a little further choosing to spend three weeks in Japan, exploring the cuisine. A trip that would become an annual ritual to a different Asian country. “The Nordics are often credited with having developed the precision of new textures and sous-vide cooking but it’s Japanese cuisine that is the most difficult to master technically. And they take flavours much further.” Wanting to learn more, Pasquale started sending letters to chefs asking for a chance to work in their kitchens.
“I was nobody. I hadn’t gone to hotel school or been to Le Cordon Bleu*. But I was persistent. And I started entering cooking competitions. Small local ones in Switzerland, then better-known ones, sometimes even televised ones.” Until one day, during an amateur competition that Pasquale didn’t win, Michelin-starred chef Pierre-André Ayer had seen a spark of potential and invited him for an internship in his Le Pérolles restaurant in Fribourg (17 Gault Millau points and 1 Michelin star).
“I was like a sponge. What I learned under Pierrot would have taken me years to learn on my own. That was the moment I knew I could do this for a living.” His next stop was Pierre Gagnaire’s kitchen in Paris at Rue Balzac with 3 Michelin stars. Once again, it wasn’t the letters but a chance encounter that got his foot through the door. “I was eating at his restaurant in Danang, Vietnam on one of my yearly immersion trips. Pierre happened to be in residence that evening and came out after the service. We spent several hours chatting. Two weeks later, his assistant invited me to Paris.”
The reality is you don’t just arrive in a Michelin starred restaurant and start cooking. Pasquale spent many hours chopping vegetables working three different jobs in restaurants across Geneva. He took any job as long as it was in a kitchen, seized every experience that he could learn from and in 2016 he entered his first professional competition, organised by the late Benoît Violier (whose Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier was awarded World’s Best Restaurant by La Liste** in 2015); “They were looking for the top chefs in Switzerland. I sent in my application, my CV, my written proposal for the assigned dishes, then had an interview. Only then was I invited to cook in competition and made it to the final. Overnight I became one of the six best chefs in Switzerland!”
After that, the job offers started rolling in from Dubai, Paris and Ho Chi Minh but Pasquale chose to stay in Geneva. “My wife has her professional career here and anyway; I’d heard about an excellent client restaurant at a private bank here”. Pasquale initially joined the Pictet 5th floor client restaurant team as an ‘extra’, helping out during the end of year season. He stayed for six years, eventually choosing to leave to set up his own private chef business with his wife. “It was time for me to exercise my style of cooking.” In 2019, he decided to finally get a degree in cooking. “It’s a three-year course but I was able to do it in one. I finished in July 2020, then launched straight into an MBA in public health (to bring together the business world with food and health). Sometime in 2020 I signed up to Bocuse and was selected for the final last year.”
The only one of the four Bocuse d’Or finalists not running his own restaurant (“That was a big step for the judges!”), Pasquale trained in his kitchen at home in Meyrin, Geneva for three months. The competition starts at 7am and takes place in a ‘culinary theatre’ with fully equipped kitchens lined up side-by-side. The chefs have five and a half hours to prepare a predefined fish and a meat dish with side dishes for 12 judges. Final dishes are judged on quality, creativity and presentation but also organisation, teamwork, cleanliness and lack of waste in the event of a tie.
“You start from scratch, with whole foods. Not a carrot is peeled and the scallops are still in their shells. Success relies on two things. You’ve got to breathe. And the timing has to be bang on. Then you’ve got to demonstrate your skill and imagination. Under the watchful eye of 4 technical judges, 12 tasting judges and hundreds of audience members.”
Pasquale’s recipe for success. “Tell yourself it’s already done and done well.” And well done it was as Pasquale’s Layered Dover Sole & Safran Scallops and Rossini-style Horse Filet Stuffed with a Duo of Foie Gras earned him third place.
Gault & Millau has described Pasquale as “a bit original, very professional and extremely curious”. If you want to sample his cuisine, you’ll have to be patient as for now, the #3 chef in Switzerland is pondering his options, currently helping out in the logistics team at Pictet. “Maybe a food truck, maybe taking my catering business further or who knows, maybe developing the future of food with Pictet!” Follow his journey on Instagram (@thekitchenlaboratory) and his website.
While he contemplates his next move, Pasquale is an Office Supplier in the logistics team at Pictet in Geneva.