Chef Davide Oldani On The Meaning Of ‘Cucina Pop’ And Expanding His Empire In Asia
It was fourteen years ago when then 36-year-old Italian chef Davide Oldani—who had trained with culinary icons including Pierre Herme, Alain Ducasse, and Albert Roux—started his own restaurant in his hometown of Cornaredo, Italy.
His simple goal was to attract diners to his city, and he did this with his ‘Cucina Pop’ philosophy, which is centered on creating high-quality dishes cooked with the best ingredients and priced affordably.
Word quickly spread about this Italian chef offering what is, essentially, a steal. It didn’t take long for the Michelin inspectors to come knocking, and for a star to be awarded. Now, D’O is considered one of the best restaurants in Italy noted not only for its food, but its notorious waiting list. “It used to be 1.5 years. Now we open reservations three months in advance to shorten the wait,” he shares.
The popularity of his restaurant has also seen chef Oldani’s celebrity rise. This has led to collaborations with brands such as S.Pellegrino and Mercedes-Benz, as well as more restaurants. He has recently expanded his food empire to Asia, with two successive openings of Foo’d in Manila and Singapore.
Recently in town for his restaurant’s official opening, we sat down with chef Oldani to talk about his journey and what he’ll be serving up next.
What’s a typical day for you?
Davide Oldani It’s always packed, especially since we just opened Ristorante D’O in Milan as well as Foo’d in Singapore and Manila. I wake up early and spend most of my time in the kitchen researching and developing new dishes. Now that I have restaurants in Asia, I’ll be travelling more often, too. But I love what I do, so I can’t really complain.
There’s a pattern in the way you name your restaurants—D’O, Ristorante D’O and Foo’d. Does D’O mean anything?
DO It has many meanings, but it’s open to your own interpretation. In Japanese, it’s translated as the right way, while it can also be the verb ‘do’ in the American language. It’s also my initials. Foo’d is a spin-off of D’O and I like that it sticks, that it’s easy to remember. That’s also how I want diners to see my food.
Tell us about your ‘Cucina Pop’ philosophy in three lines:
DO The root of this philosophy was to entice food lovers to travel to my small restaurant in Cornaredo. There, we serve what I like to call ‘pop’ food—high-quality dishes at wallet-friendly prices. It’s not a marketing strategy; it’s my way of saying that good food is for everyone, and this has guided all my endavours since.
You design your own cutlery. Why go into this detail?
DO I started designing my own cutlery with functionality and practicality in mind. One example is the passepartout, a combination of a fork, spoon and knife, which allows you to pick up all the ingredients in one go. I have also designed water and wine glasses with one side lower than the other. I did this so you don’t lose eye contact with your dining partner while having a sip.
Why did you choose Manila as the first place for Foo’d and your expansion to Asia?
DO It’s a big step for us to open in the Philippines. I did it because the dining scene there is getting bigger and catching up to countries like Singapore. It’s also because I truly believe that future of dining is to serve delicious and affordable fare, and luckily I met the people who shared the same vision. Think about it: 10 or 20 years ago, Michelin didn’t award stars to a street food stall, now these are the places that attract long queues. I believe this is only the beginning of democratising fine dining, and I want to play a larger part in this change.
Any other restaurants in the pipeline?
DO Well, I’d like to open another restaurant in Milan but right now my focus is on Foo’d. We plan to update the menu at Foo’d every three months. We’re currently working on infusing Mandarin oranges to the dishes in time for Chinese New Year. Eventually, you’ll see more local ingredients as we want to include local produce available in Singapore.
Lastly, what’s your secret to a restaurant’s longevity?
DO Do everything with passion and cook with love.