Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2016
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Executive Chef, Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta
- Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta: LIFE Luxury Group; Mandarin Oriental Hotel Pudong-Shanghai; Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok; The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Osaka, Japan; The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Jakarta; Montauk Yacht Club, Montauk, New York; Torre di Pisa, New York; Modern Restaurant Corporation, Ridgewood, New Jersey; Hotel Villa delle Rose, Lecco, Italy; Culinary Institute Aldo Moro, Lecco, Italy; Hotel La Corte, Como, Italy; Hotel Parco Belvedere, Lecco, Italy
- Lecco, Italy
- Italian, Spanish, English
“I grew up immersed in the journey of food,” recalls Marco Riva of the early fascination that eventually led him across three continents, two oceans and myriad food and beverage operations to become Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi. Riva’s father, who owned a local produce business, gave his young son an appreciation for freshly harvested fruits and vegetables (“Even today, biting into a perfect tomato takes me right back to my childhood”), while at home Mamma Riva cooked up daily feasts “worthy of a five-star hotel,” tailoring dishes to the personal tastes of every family member.
Based in the Lake Como district, the family summered in Isola D’Elba and Isola D’Ischia, idyllic islands situated off the Italian coast that proved to be a huge influence on Riva. In the company of local fishermen, whose fresh daily catch found its way to the dinner table, he gained a lifelong love for sea- and farm-to-table sourcing, a passion strongly reflected at the Hotel’s Italian all-day dining restaurant, Pigneto, and the signature French restaurant, Est, both located on the 39th floor. Diners at Four Seasons can savour unique cold cuts from Italy, curated cheeses from Hokkaido and small-batch seasonal vegetables from local farmers. “Our chefs have partnered with specialty producers across Japan and beyond to get the very best ingredients,” explains Riva.
The long, joyful days of sharing tables laden with food, meanwhile, infused Riva’s culinary sensibility with a sense of abbondanza, “a life of plenty.” This heady feeling is evoked at Pigneto, from the vibrant market-style displays at the salumeria to the sharing-friendly menus. Not for Riva the typically tiny portions of fine dining, which must be apportioned with scientific precision because “there’s only one basil leaf or a single shaving of truffle.” The helpings here are hearty, an invitation to dig in and enjoy the unrivalled pleasure of dining with loved ones. As Riva notes, “Italian cuisine is generous and cosy – it’s food for the soul. For us, it isn’t a good meal if you don’t have to loosen your pants at the end.”
The restaurant’s panoramic outdoor terrace recreates the oh-so-cool aperitivo scene of 1980s Milan: “The vibe is fashionable yet lighthearted. It’s the kind of place you come to after a long day to unwind and people-watch, to see and be seen.” Not far away on the same level, destination bar Virtu channels a different European fashion capital, combining Parisian drinking traditions with Japanese modernist techniques.
At Est, Riva teams up with Chef Guillaume Bracaval to offer innovative French cuisine, inspired by a deep respect for the Japanese terroir. “For me, chefs have always been artists in the way they take an assortment of raw ingredients and turn them into something brand-new that wasn’t there before. At Est, we showcase this artistry,” he explains, clicking off the open show kitchen, the engaging ambience and Chef Bracaval’s interactive style as key attributes.
Over at the Lounge, “our wagashi artist and Japanese pastry chef have teamed up to give a fresh spin to teatime traditions,” notes Riva, who has conceptualised incredible tea journeys for the space, served against a backdrop of sweeping Imperial Palace views and punctuated by wow moments. In fact, “wow” sums up Riva’s vision for food and beverage at the Hotel: “All our dining and drinking experiences have one thing in common: they’re different. Of course, you’ve had Italian or French food before, but Four Seasons will still surprise and delight you. We’re keeping it simple and sexy, with an inimitable twist.”
While Riva was raised in hospitality, his true passion growing up was basketball. He played semi-professionally in a secondary league in Italy before taking an opportunity to cook in the United States, arriving in New York City in the early 2000s. A few years later, Riva was recruited by Ritz-Carlton to support an opening in Jakarta and subsequently, another in Osaka, Japan. In 2009, Shangri-La came knocking with an opportunity to oversee four hotel restaurants in Bangkok. Then Mandarin Oriental expressed interest in Riva’s talents, and in 2012 he became Executive Sous-Chef on the opening team of a property in Pudong, Shanghai, with six restaurants and bars. The move paid off: he quickly got promoted to executive chef. Finally, in 2016, a former colleague reached out about the new Four Seasons in Jakarta. A couple of meetings later, Riva was in: “I just fell in love with the people, the project, and Four Seasons way of doing things.”
It was only after he began travelling and working around the world, that the sheer wonder of Italian food dawned on Riva. Growing up, “it was just an everyday affair” – the handmade pasta, the refreshing gelato, the flavour-packed cheese. Away from Italy, inspired by nostalgia as well as new influences, Riva began to incorporate traditional ingredients from home into his menus, including the “very cosy polenta,” a standby in his mother’s kitchen.
When he’s not working, Riva loves to spend time with his daughter and wife: “In hospitality, we work long, uncertain hours, so I value every moment I get with my family.” Now, in Tokyo, he’s excited for them to discover the secret places where few tourists venture – tiny villages, hidden hot springs and old-fashioned farms. He particularly enjoys observing sword-making by blacksmiths, a uniquely Japanese form of craftsmanship. “Apart from the food itself, this is my favourite part of being a chef,” he explains. “Travelling to new places, meeting different people, experiencing unfamiliar cultures – all of this enlarges the mind.”