Not everyone knows how to fillet and prepare a branzino, but Chef Giovanni Novella was practically born doing it. The fish, otherwise known as European sea bass, is daily fare in Giovanni’s hometown of Torre del Grecco, a fishing port between Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy. Giovanni was lucky enough to grow up right on the water, and fish almost every day in the summer. It’s no wonder his style of cooking finds its center around seafood.
“In Italy, the food culture is very powerful. I knew right away that cooking was my passion, and something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” says Giovanni. So at age 14, he decided to study at a culinary school in Sorrento. Afterward, he was accepted into a prestigious pastry program in Amalfi, where he specialized in southern Italian desserts.
During his five years of culinary school, Giovanni honed his skills in small restaurants along the coast of southern Italy. After graduating, he traveled and cooked across Europe, expanding his horizons to Germany, Greece, France, all around Italy, and finally to a luxury cruise ship that traveled around South America. Despite the wide variety of environments and foods he encountered, the one constant was restaurant life, and restaurant people.
“Restaurant people tend to be creative and open to new ideas. I like to be challenged, and be around people and a culture that is always pushing me to challenge myself to be better.”
After his culinary journey, he spent three years working in Italy in fine dining before moving to San Diego, California, in 2011. Cooking in San Diego gave Giovanni an opportunity to balance his experiences from Italy and his travels with American-style cuisine, and to blend the flavors from different continents.
“My favorite thing about restaurants is using ingredients – both local and from around the world – to create new dishes and flavors that let each product shine,” says Giovanni, who loves getting to know the customers and hearing their feedback on new or classic dishes.
“I’m excited to be in Madison, and to experience this city and culture. My wife grew up in Madison and has always told me what a great place this is to live, and what a great “food” city it is. I am excited to raise our growing family here, and enjoy all that the city has to offer.” And while Giovanni spent a good part of his life fishing on the breathtaking coast of Italy, there’s one thing Madison has to offer that he’s never experienced. “I’ve never fished in a lake before – I can’t wait to get out on the lake!”