It might be a bit of a cliché, but the story started when a boy fell in love with a girl.
“I started working as a cook when I was seventeen and that was a lot of years ago. Before doing catering school, I did a technical school. But this school was not suitable for me, also because to find a girl was like finding a needle in a haystack. I was very young with my hormones totally out of control. When I went to catering school, it was a great party for me, because eighty percent were girls.”
After finishing school and several experiences in high level restaurants, he attended university and had the luck to teach in a catering school to maintain his studies. He decided at that time that he didn’t want to be a professional cook because it was a very hard job and he wanted to continue studying.
“But in the summer of 1983, I fell in love with a girl and when she asked me to cook for her birthday party and for her friends, I cooked with the greatest passion. I cooked, like in the movie Babette’s Feast and for the first time I discovered how wonderful it was to see the pleasure and happiness of others.” Cooking for her birthday party reignited his passion for cooking.
Three-starred restaurant on a resort beach
After ten years of teaching in catering school, Mauro Uliassi opened the Uliassi restaurant in 1990 with his sister Catia, and his son later became the restaurant’s maitre. Family remains the foundation of the business. For thirty years, the restaurant has sat on the beach front of Senigallia, a charming seaside resort on Italy’s Adriatic coast. He believes that only in this beautiful place he could develop his career as a chef. Hidden away in an unassuming white wooden structure by the sea, Uliassi welcomes guests with its contemporary interior design and decorative artworks hinting to changing seasons. It is both a restaurant and a gallery where you can have a stunning view of the white, sandy velvet beach just outside.
Catia Uliassi, sister of Mauro Uliassi
The restaurant soon becomes an authentic gourmet restaurant. “Meeting the great masters of Spanish cuisine Ferran Adrià and Martin Berasategui was another turning point in my career”, he says. He is now fully committed to refined cuisine dedicated to the no-frills, uncompromising enhancement of flavours.
With his eponymously named Ristorante Uliassi, Mauro Uliassi became the tenth chef in Italy to be crowned with three Michelin stars by the 2019 Michelin Guide Italy (there are currently 11 three-starred restaurants in Italy). , including ranking at 52 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list in 2021 and shooting to No.12 on the list with its first-ever entry this year. Three years of Covid did not become an obstacle, instead he has been riding rocket to success.
Surf meets turf
I had heard a lot of good reviews about Uliassi, but I usually wouldn’t praise too highly when it comes to tourist-packed beachfront restaurants. As a result, Uliassi completely broke those stereotypes and the food was way beyond my expectation.
Although the restaurant is just a few steps from the Adriatic port, proximity to the coast is not necessarily a guarantee of top-quality seafood. Uliassi’s ability to source the best produce from its suppliers should in no way be ignored – it excels in not just seafood, but also game dishes.
Mauro’s cooking is incredibly sophisticated, but he keeps his dishes looking clean, vibrant, and impeccable like the velvet beach outside the window. We ordered the newly crafted Lab menu which places more emphasis on smell this year.
The first course was a crunchy tart with cuttlefish ink, cold sea urchin, tangerine and safflower. The natural sweetness and creaminess of the sea urchin complemented the refreshing tangerine while each stood out distinctively on its own.
Served with green tomato, pollen and dried black olives, the raw cuttlefish had a crisp and tender mouthfeel like sushi, soft but at the same time chewy. Black olives can taste strong and are not easy to use in cooking, but the green tomato balanced its impact and the picturesque plate was visually pleasing.
The red shrimp dish was a beauty as well. Uliassi is celebrated for its outstanding treatment of shrimp brains. The dish was further composed of orange peel, cinnamon and ginger, placed against a persimmon-hued, twig-patterned background made of rich, umami sauce.
The smoked eel was coupled with apricot, bay leaf and horseradish that opened the nostrils to the breezy scents in a memory of Japanese mustard. The snails were fried to perfectly crispy on the outside and plump inside, harmonised with deep-fried friggitello pepper, oregano, and puffed herbs.
The results from discussion would be tasted and evaluated by the Uliassi family before they become the new Lab menu for the year. When people ask him whether his dishes are traditional or innovative, he says that there is no difference between them, because innovation is tradition that renews. “The food that we cook is modern, because we use the latest techniques but at the same time it is food that comes from the knowledge of tradition.”
As a latecomer to three-starred Michelin restaurants in the Italian culinary scene, Mauro is very positive about the future. “Food and love are the foundations of life without which you could not live. I cook to give pleasure, and I like seeing the ecstasy in the eyes of my guests, and with ecstasy you have the possibility to create a unique and magical moment.” Perhaps it is the power of love that lights up the road to this beach restaurant. For tourists it is a great stopover in the journey, but for me it’s a treasure of surprise that I fell in love at first sight. Uliassi is a place I’ll always want to return to.