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Interview: Jacopo Crosti on nostalgia, culture and connection

May 2021

Interview: Jacopo Crosti on nostalgia, culture and connection

Born and raised in Italy, Jacopo Crosti developed his love for food as a child – a passion passed down from his mother and grandmothers, and one that would later see him take on the globe.

Crosti worked in Michelin star restaurants in London before heading to Europe, USA and Australia, learning from different cultures, experiencing different connections to food and experimenting with different flavours before settling in Kiwiland.

Having worked at Sidart, The Grove and Beirut before taking the helm as the proud Owner and Executive Chef of Mela in Central Auckland, we sat down with Crosti to learn more about his connection to and passion for food.

I grew up with the smell of…

Great food in my mum and grandmothers kitchens. Our Sunday lunch will forever be stuck in my head – the winter season especially, with a content smell of braised game meat and roasted vegetables in the house. I remember my grandmother used to make tomato sauce from our local tomatoes and then jar it to use in the winter – the smell of that sauce with fresh tagliatelle after coming in from a cold day after school....it brings me back instantly. It is still my favourite dish.

The region where I come from…

Has a remarkable food history and traditional dishes. Most are game-based and braised for a long period of time, then served with polenta that has been cooked on the fireplace and imparts a distinctive smoky aroma. I was raised on fresh handmade pasta, risotto and other traditional dishes from the Lombardia region. 

Every culture has a close connection to food and everyone has their own stories about their parents or grandparents like I do…

I love sharing that connection with people. One specific skill I picked up while travelling was learning how to forage. No matter where you go there are almost always regional wild herbs, spices, mushrooms, etc. that often go unnoticed by the untrained eye. Essentially, travelling is constantly absorbing information and experiences that grow into an ocean of possibilities, with more room than ever to experiment with food and make it better.

Being a chef is hard work…

It takes unwavering passion, and sometimes an obsession with the job. You don’t ever get enough sleep, you don’t have Christmas, birthdays or celebrations with your family. At the beginning of your career, you don’t have any money and are often treated horribly by your superiors. We are happy to face all of these challenges every day because we just love it. We love to see customers eating our food and smiling. We give joy to people. 

Uber Eats is my guilty pleasure…

Someone else cooking you food and bringing it right to your door in 20 minutes is the ultimate luxury on your only day off.

I really admire… 

Anyone who wants to work hard and learn.

Collaborating to me is about bringing together different opinions and philosophies about food…

It's a shared learning experience where everyone comes away with more than what they started with. I've learned so much from fellow chefs and I hope they have learned from me as well.

My go-to dish is…

Hands down a barbeque in NZ summer. It's a delicious style of cooking that I love to experiment with, and it also just makes the best memories with the people you love. 

If I could invite one person to dinner…

It would be Massimo Bottura. He’s one of the best chefs in the world and it will be a dream to have dinner, talk food for a few hours and cook with him.

Having a team that supports your vision and goals is crucial... 

Any staff member in my team is important, everyone has different tasks and with good coordination, the machine works. I try to keep everyone motivated and I’m free to give advice and suggestions, no one is more important than someone else, myself included.

Success to me is...

Waking up in the morning and being excited about your job.

If I could create one dish inspired by Auckland city I feel like it would be...

A celebration of the hard work of our farmers and producers, ingredients and flavours unique to this country with some modern techniques. Probably a lamb dish with kawakawa and horopito crumb, piko piko puree and pickled tua tua. 

This interview was proudly brought to you by First Table. Hungry to try Mela? Discover Jacopo Crosti's menu for half the price when dining on First Table.

First Table Magazine tells the inspiring tales of hospitality legends near and far. From passionate local chefs to humble owner-operators and global hospitality-empire masterminds; get to know the people behind the food, the people who are shaping the world one memorable dining experience at a time.

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