Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2007
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Chef de Partie, Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru
- Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An; Four Seasons Hotel Doha; Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita; Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne, Switzerland; Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru; Le Grand Coer, Méribel, France; Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo, Italy, Kulm Hotel St. Moritz, Switzerland, Le Club de Cavaliere, Le Lavandou, France
- School of Hotel and Restaurant Management Serramazzoni, Italy
- Giandeto di Casina, Reggio Emilia, Italy
- Italian, English, French, Spanish
“The way Italian chefs treat ingredients is all their own,” says Alessandro Fontanesi, explaining what makes him the right talent at the right time to head culinary operations as Executive Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Tunis. Tunisia is second only to Italy in consumption of pasta, he notes, so his aim is to serve only the best. “I could buy croissants and frozen bread, but I don’t. We make the croissants, the bread, the pasta, the Bolognese, all the sauces, and the gravy for our steak is made from 100 kilos of bone marrow each week. Having been raised and taught to cook by my grandmothers in Italy’s countryside makes all the difference for what I do.”
Fontanesi oversees a kitchen team of 50-plus behind the operation of five restaurants and lounges along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. The cuisine they create ranges from the Mediterranean flavours of Spain, France and Italy at the Hotel’s signature dining spot Creek Bistro Chic, to international and local specialties for breakfast at Azur, and the in-room dining menu beyond.
Fontanesi uses as many local ingredients as he can, and there are a lot to go around – though he cautions that chefs need to be careful in Tunisia, as “there are a lot of seasons.” Late summer is the time for tuna and mussels, for instance, while early fall is best for monkfish and sea bass. “I’ll have beautiful endive and apples one week, sweet peaches to roast with duck the next.” He has to hustle to source ingredients at their peak, he says, but the effort is worth it. “Our regular guests know our rhythms and that if certain ingredients aren’t fresh they won’t see them on the menu. They respect that.”
So do suppliers. Fontanesi says the Hotel was the first in Tunis to go out of its way to find and support small farmers who grow things such as delicate edible flowers, microgreens, and organic quail and chicken. Supporting them is “a huge victory for us as well as for the farmers,” but essentially par for the course. “It’s part of our philosophy.”
Similarly, Fontanesi is all about supporting the talent in the kitchen. The biggest challenge in the culinary industry is “the same one it has had for 1,000 years,” he says. “We have a generation of cooks who are hypnotized by Google and not accepting of the pressure it takes to learn and excel.” The way to fix that, at Four Seasons Hotel Tunis, at least, “is for me to be in the kitchen as a role model, working beside them everyday.”
His method is inspirational. “They know I’ve attained my position because of my skills, so they look forward to being mentored and getting feedback daily.” Structure is important; so, too, is a dash of anxiety. “When you worry, you take steps to get in a better situation. If I can show them how, they’re on their way.”
Like many Italian chefs, Fontanesi’s resume runs a kilometre long. Born and raised in the countryside near the town of Casina in the province of Reggio Emilia in the middle-north of Italy, he stuck close to his grandfather in the garden in the summer and to his grandmothers, whose recipes he still uses, in the kitchen year round.
At age of 14, he began to pester his father, a factory worker, to buy a scooter for him. “He told me, ‘Aha! You need to earn it,’ and set me up at a small place with two or three old ladies making ravioli all day.” Fontanesi earned his first paycheques doing the same – “Turns out, I was quick!” – and by the end of a summer he was ready for culinary school. “It wasn’t easy at first, but I knew right away it was what I was meant to do.”
Following school, he got his start as a seasonal chef traveling around Europe. While working at a luxury spa hotel in the Cotswolds countryside of England, he received an offer from a Four Seasons chef in Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru and spent a year as Chef de Partie at the Resort’s contemporary Italian restaurant Blu.
It was a good introduction to Four Seasons, he remembers, and after a couple more seasons in Europe, he returned to the company in 2009 as Italian Chef at Mauritius at Anahita, where he met his wife, who was an assistant manager at the Resort. After additional Four Seasons assignments in Doha, Qatar, and Hoi An, Vietnam, he arrived in Tunis for his first-ever turn as Executive Chef in fall 2019.
While decidedly the leader in the kitchen, Fontanesi is also a presence on the floor, making time “whenever possible” to appear in the dining room and talk to guests. “I’ll be out there with tomato sauce on my jacket and they won’t blink an eye,” he says with a laugh, noting that “everyone is a foodie these days and they’re all hungry for opportunities to chat with the chef.”
When they settle in at a table or pull up a seat at the bar, each customer has their own expectations. But not to worry: “At the end of the day, we are hoteliers, and we’re here to create amazing experiences and give our guests whatever they desire.”