HIA - Chef Massimo Capra
Written by Oryx
In partnership with Qatar Airways / SSP joint venture and with Qatar Duty Free, celebrity chef Massimo Capra has opened Soprafino, an Italian restaurant, at Hamad International Airport (HIA). Oryx speaks to the chef best known for his simple and uncomplicated approach to classic Italian cuisine.
With HIA built to accept some 50 million passengers a year, what are the challenges of such a large operation? How will you capture the intimacy of restaurant dining on this larger scale?
The design of the space is paramount to creating a feeling of intimacy; a good seating plan allows people to relax and enjoy their time in the restaurant without feeling like they are in a large, busy airport. Soprafino’s layout incorporates a variety of different spaces from comfortable booths and small private areas at the back of the restaurant to more open-plan seating and bar stools in the front section, so people have the privilege of choosing the environment that they eat in. Our aim is to provide a secluded oasis of calm for passengers as they are passing through HIA.
Please tell us a little about your partnership and project with Qatar Airways and Soprafino at HIA?
It is very exciting to be in partnership with Qatar Airways / SSP joint venture and with Qatar Duty Free. We have a great synergy in terms of our goals and philosophy; they are both expanding rapidly and have a dynamic vision for the future, which we share. I think the combination has huge potential and opens the door to a new audience for us.
Can you offer us any highlights of the menu, either firm favourites, or dishes you’ve created for the region?
The menu is predominantly Italian inspired and was designed to cater for passengers who want to eat delicious, fresh food even if they don’t have a lot of time to spare. Our experience from running a restaurant in Toronto Airport helped us put together a menu that is varied and flexible so it works for people who are travelling on a tight schedule as well as those who have more time to kill in the terminal. My personal favourites on the menu include our Penne Rosa pasta with cream and chicken, as well as the zucchini, shrimp spaghetti. Delicious!
You’ve said both your parents provided inspiration for you in the kitchen. What did they teach you?
I grew up in a farming environment where my mother raised the chickens and geese and my father grew fresh produce, so everything we ate came from our garden. I started cooking at home because my mother was really protective and didn’t let me go out much, so I was always at home helping her when she prepared pastas. That was my introduction to cooking, but then, like every professional chef, I went to cooking school.
What is your culinary philosophy?
Growing up cooking with fresh ingredients gave me an appreciation for quality, freshly grown produce, and my philosophy for sourcing local, seasonal products evolved from there. I don’t like to ‘over work’ food; great-tasting dishes don’t need to be elaborate.
Do you have a signature dish?
Over the years I have developed several signature dishes. One of my favourites, and one of the most popular, is my beetroot risotto – it was on the menu for 16 years at one of my restaurants in Toronto.
When you are short on time, do you skip the starter or dessert?
Starter. I have a sweet tooth, particularly for French pastries.
What is the key ingredient to your success?
The key is to realise that you have to be a businessman and not just a chef. When you own a restaurant there is so much more to the role than just cooking.
You have a film star following and can count Tom Cruise among your ardent fans. How did your ‘on-screen career’ start?
I was lucky to work in a restaurant called Prego de la Piazza, which was one of the most famous restaurants in Toronto in the nineties, and attracted huge stars like Tom [Cruise] and Nicole [Kidman], Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers. Matt Dillon even came into the kitchen to cook with me once, and Michael Bublé used to play on our piano.
My TV debut came about because our restaurant was located close to several production studios and the daytime shows regularly called me in when they needed a chef to demonstrate a recipe or give tips on Italian cooking. A food-writer friend finally recommended me for a show that had been running for 30 years in Canada, and I became a part of the regular line-up. That led to being asked to appear on Restaurant Makeover in early 2000, which was a huge success.
I think the reason behind my on-screen success is basically that I always do what I am told! You get a reputation for being easy to work with and then you get invited back.
Your Toronto restaurants, Mistura and supper club Sopra, are flagships of ‘contemporary Italian’ cuisine and hospitality. Why not stay local?
What made you want to branch out and expand globally? I have been on the Toronto restaurant scene for 30 years now, so it is time for the younger chefs to take up the baton! I also love to travel and experience new cultures, so when this opportunity came up, I was curious, and I really couldn’t refuse!
Qatar Airways, world’s 5-star airline, flies to more than 130 destinations worldwide.