Chef Alex Pelli (hereby known as Chef Alex) has a colorful professional history, that has led him to be one of the most sought after cooks in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Chef Alex’s love and appreciation of food started at an early age…….when his very Italian family owned a modest delicatessen in Johannesburg, South Africa. Both his parents, fantastic Italian cooks, made delicious homemade spaghetti, meatballs and mouth-watering pesto.
As Chef Alex saw the satisfied responses of the patrons who frequented his parents’ small place, he knew that food would play a big part in his life. After attending the prestigious Les Roches, Switzerland’s famous hotel management school, Chef Alex traveled extensively, picking up different flavors, sauces, spices and other culinary accoutrements along the way. He often worked in world-renowned hotels, such as the Carlton Hotel in Cannes and the Four Seasons in Chicago, before landing in the Turks and Caicos.
Now Chef Alex works as the preferred chef with After 5 Island Concierge, and is available for private bookings, should you be staying at the Tuscany Resort. What follows below is a sampling of interview questions with this charming, witty and talented man on all things food, wining and dining.
What do you enjoy about cooking privately for customers in their own kitchens?
Chef Alex: One of the pleasures of being a private chef is that I am selfemployed and am able to work anywhere and am not tied to any one place, which also has the bonus of cooking in different kitchens and homes all the time, all of which are incredibly beautiful and have breathtaking views of the ocean! Working [this way] has helped me to connect with many people. People are more at ease and comfortable in “their” home for the week and the naturally comfortable environment makes for an easy ice breaker. I love meeting people from different places and learning about their homes and experiences and, of course, I enjoy sharing my stories with them too! Another little thing I enjoy is the interest in my accent from my largely North American clientele! Having lived in a few places, needless to say, I do sound a little different and have heard some interesting impressions from some of my guests too! It also goes without saying that the best part of it is seeing people eat and enjoy the food I have prepared and for them to appreciate the love that has gone in to preparing a fabulous meal! I am still waiting for a magical, self-cleaning kitchen but for now, that is also a fun part of the night, often spent elbow high in suds chatting and sharing more stories.
What types of food do you specialize in?
Chef Alex: I would say my food naturally has a strong Italian influence as that is what I grew up with. However, growing up in South Africa and then living in several more countries exposed me to many types of different cuisine. From that I got an appreciation for variety and now often blend cuisines and use ingredients that I may not have before. Part of the joy of cooking is being able to experiment and try new things and coming up with delicious new dishes. Cooking for many different people also means catering to many different tastes and for that reason, I try to personalize each menu for each meal according to what you feel like eating then, and am happy to prepare anything from a simple salad to a seven course menu. One of my favorite things to make is homemade pasta and its glorious palette of possibilities. I guess I would call it one of my happy places and simply love the process, from start to finish. I find it almost meditative and as many Italians will tell you, it is so much more than just the ingredients but more importantly, to be able to “feel” the pasta and know when it is just right. And once it is just right, you have a myriad of options to play with, from the size and shape of it, to the choice of the stuffing or the sauce to romance that certain cut of pasta. Whichever you choose, one thing is certain. Fresh, homemade pasta is as incredible as it is going to get. (Please note that this is not open for discussion )
Any celebrity clients you’ve cooked for? Any people of note?
Chef Alex: I have cooked for a few celebrities and have dealt with many during my days in hotels and one thing I have learned is that they too, just like us, also appreciate a good, home cooked meal. As they spend a lot of their time being wined and dined, when they can relax, it is often with a simple but delicious meal prepared fresh and to their personal preference and they don’t even have to get out of the pool to eat it if they don’t want to!
What type of dish do you recommend for special occasions?
Chef Alex: As far as recommending dishes for special occasions like honeymoons or anniversaries, one of the first questions I will ask is what the lady’s preference is and if there is any meal that is special to them in particular. People often have requests for favorites they have or go the other way entirely and decide to try something new and make new memories with it. Either way, little touches and extra details (and usually a good dose of champagne and chocolate) all go towards the couple having a delicious dinner with a stunning view! A few of my favorite appetizers include little cubes of watermelon with goats cheese, oven crisped Prosciutto and a drizzle of maple syrup or a garlic rubbed crostino with Arugula, seared beef tenderloin, Parmesan shavings and a drizzle of white truffle oil. As a starter I think you should try a baby Arugula salad with toasted pine nuts, crispy bacon bits, Parmesan shavings and topped with a…..wait for it…..deep fried, poached egg! Creamy, golden goodness in the middle and crunchy breadcrumbs outside that all together just taste ridiculously good! If it’s soup you’re after, how about a lightly curried Butternut squash and coconut milk soup, served with coconut crusted shrimp? For your main course, I would suggest our fresh, local lobster tail, out of the shell, stuffed with garlic and fresh Sage and wrapped in heavenly thick cut bacon, roasted with a little white wine and served with a sweet potato mash and grilled asparagus.
Dessert could be something light and refreshing like citrus marinated berries with lemon zest and Grand Marnier, served with vanilla ice cream and lime zest garnish or something a little more decadent like caramelized bananas with our local Bambarra rum flambé, served with macadamia nut brittle ice cream, honey roasted nuts and drizzled with maple syrup. For a finer dining menu, I would usually suggest a number of smaller courses and it may go a little something like this….
- Bacon wrapped, chorizo stuffed dates with a spicy tomato sauce
- Local grouper ceviche with cilantro, lime juice, Jalapeno, red onion and a touch of honey, served with a tomato rubbed crostino, Catalan style
- Fresh Kale salad with maple roasted bacon Caesar style dressing, serve with caramelized bacon bits and garlic, Parmesan croutons
- Lemon and Arugula risotto with pan seared scallops, garnished with a tomato and basil concasse
- Sautéed local Snapper with a caper and white wine sauce, served with garlic whipped potatoes, grilled Broccolini with garlic, lemon zest and olive oil and slow roasted cherry tomatoes
- Roasted rack of lamb with a red wine and Rosemary jus, served with a pumpkin and parsnip puree, lightly grilled asparagus and roasted baby peppers with garlic and Kalamata olives
- Flourless chocolate lava cake served with vanilla ice cream and a strawberry and Cointreau coulis
Guests usually provide their own beverages but I will always be happy to make wine recommendations or pairings for the meals too, as long as a glass is given to the chef for quality control purposes. You may have noticed that I am a self-confessed carnivore and bacon addict but am also very happy to cook for vegans and vegetarians too.
Any desserts that shouldn’t be skipped?
Chef Alex: If the desserts above didn’t peak your interest then maybe you could try a Caribbean rum cake, served with rum and raisin ice cream and my “goodnight raisins” – these are raisins that I simmer in Bambarra rum, orange zest, cinnamon and honey for a few hours and these are served warm over the ice cream and cake and needless to say, are intoxicatingly good! A dark chocolate and orange mousse with fresh raspberries and crushed walnuts is also popular or you could try a slice of homemade apple strudel, filled with three types of apples, rum soaked raisins and crushed macadamia nuts, served warm and crispy with ice cream and drizzled with Calvados.
Have you found that people enjoy the more intimate experience of eating a finely prepared gourmet meal in the privacy of their own luxury villa?
Chef Alex: Without question people enjoy the more intimate experience of dining in their own luxury villa and it is easy to understand why. As I said earlier, people are at ease and more relaxed and don’t have to do anything except sit back and enjoy the evening with their friends or families. It takes away the hassle of making reservations, getting dressed up and driving to and from the restaurant and gives you the freedom to eat what you want, when you want, all in the comfort of your own villa. Often times guests are either still on the beach having a cocktail or having a dip in the ocean only minutes before their dinner is served and this just adds to the whole evening flowing comfortably and helping them do what they come here for….to relax!