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I can still smell the aroma of the ragù my mother used to make

Mauro the chef

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I believe that right now the best way for a chef to astonish people is to do great simple dishes. Fancy cooking is easy if you have the right equipment, but the real test of a chef is to ask him or her to make an enduring classic like spaghetti al pomodoro. You need the best pasta, the best seasonal tomatoes, and you need to know what to do with them. I use artisanal spaghetti from Abruzzo that has been extruded through dies made of gold, and I make the sauce with three different varieties of tomato. Provare per credere, as we say in Italy – tasting is believing!

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that being a private chef is easier than working in a restaurant. I’ve done both in the course of my career, and I love the challenge of cooking for a small group. With such a direct connection between kitchen and dining room, if I’m doing a roast chicken for one guest and a pasta dish for another, they need to be ready at exactly the same time, there’s no room for cheating! Then I have to coordinate with the butler to get the service just right, find time to chat with the guests, give some thought to those little extra flourishes and marks of attention that people love. My aim at Villa Passalacqua will be not just to cook well, but to make everyone feel special.

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I can still smell the aroma of the ragù my mother used to make on Saturday for Sunday lunch – it’s always better if you make it the day before. The next morning, my dad would start preparing the egg pasta for the lasagna. He always did the pasta, stretching the sheets super-thin, and my mum always did the ragù, which was the perfect consistency – neither too smooth nor too granular. Then a few days after Christmas all my mother’s friends would come round and they’d start making agnolotti del plin – pasta parcels filled with meat sauce that are typical of Piedmont and the part of Lombardy, near Pavia, where I grew up. I’d forgotten about my mum and her friends all making agnolotti around a big communal table until I began making them myself at a restaurant in Piedmont – then the whole scene came flooding back!

“My aim at Villa Passalacqua will be not just to cook well, but to make everyone feel special.”

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