Fabrizio Schenardi is the executive chef of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. Chef Schenardi began his culinary studies in Torino and following an apprenticeship in Sardinia, headed to positions in New York; Jamaica; and Dana Point, California. He arrived to Orlando by way of St. Louis, and was previously in Tampa, where he opened a hotel in 2004 that became renowned as much for his personal warmth as his scintillating cuisine. Chef Schenardi oversees all of the restaurants at Four Seasons Resort Orlando. His flagship restaurant, Ravello, features authentic Italian cuisine with some delicious, unique recipes straight from Schenardi’s grandmothers’ kitchens. I recently had the privilege to meet Fabrizio while visiting Four Seasons Orlando. His beguiling hospitality enveloped me into a luxurious dining experience with genuine warmth and charm. We chatted about his career, authentic Italian cuisine, family, and homemade limoncello.
Had you always wanted to be a chef?
No, I was going to school for something else and after one year I couldn’t take it anymore. My parents asked me what I wanted to do and I decided to attend the cooking school in Torino. I did very well and surprised everyone.
Torino, Italy was the beginning of your culinary journey and since then you have showcased your talents in Sardinia, New York, Jamaica, St. Louis, California, and now Orlando. Is this a big change for you and your family?
I have been traveling since I was 16 years old so I’m used to it. My wife and son love to travel as well, but the hardest part is to leave behind good people and friends.
Do you ever go to Disney Land and ride the rides?
No I don’t, but I like Epcot as well as their food and beverage programs.
You oversee all of the restaurants at Four Seasons Orlando but Ravello is your baby. How do you manage your time with this schedule while still manning the kitchen at Ravello?
I have three very talented sous chefs who help me a lot and are very passionate about Italian food. I write the menus and recipes, and then they come up with specials and deal with the daily operations.
The menu at Ravello includes recipes from your grandmother's. What is her name? Tell me about her and how she influenced your cooking.
I have two Nonne: Paola e Caterina. Nonna Paola used to make great gnocchi, Bolognese, apple pie, tiramisu, many dishes with chestnuts, rabbit cacciatora, stuffed tomato, and pickle/preserve everything you can imagine. I’m using most of her recipes on a daily basis. Nonna Paola’s food was very tasty and well presented, but I do have hard time duplicating the flavors of her chestnuts dishes.
Nonna Caterina’s specialties were ravioli, pesto, bugie, insalata russa, rabbit with olive taggiasche and Vermentino, stuffed cabbage, tagliatelle with salsa di pomodoro hers and arugula, AND A LOT OF LIQUOR like Limoncello and Grappa. I’m using Nonna Caterina recipes for the Ravioli, Pesto, Tagliatelle and all the liquors Limoncello and Grappa. Her food was very flavorful but simple “straight to the point”. During the holidays, it wasn’t unusual to have at least 20 people over for each meal…and yes everyone used to drink like crazy since they produced their own wine (Dolcetto and Vermentino).
Every two years an Italian-born chef who has preserved the tradition of Italian cuisine and culture worldwide with their culinary achievements is selected to receive The Paolo Bertani Award. You were chosen as the recipient of this award in April. What does this honor mean to you?
This is a great achievement. I have been working in many places around the world and received many awards, but never one from Italy. It made me feel on top of the world, when you think no one his watching from the mother land, and there you go! Simply fantastic.
You have also received a James Beard Award...which one?
I received a James Beard acknowledgement for Outstanding Contribution to the foundation on February 25, 2005; I helped them start Citymeals-on-Wheels.
Do you see a trend with diners seeking “better for you” options on the menu?
Yes they are and we have created many different options for them. Diners are looking for well-prepared fresh and seasonal ingredients. We also we produce everything in-house and they really appreciate our efforts.
What is your favorite dish on your menu and why?
In Ravello, I love the Ravioli because of the flavor and it brings back memories of my youth! I also like dishes from all the other restaurants; Capa: the octopus, PB&G: Lobster Roll, Plancha: El Cubano .
You love making your own liquors. Tell me about this.
I love to make my own liquors because you need to take the time to care and love what you are doing. I can relax and be in my own little world for few hours.
What is your favorite cookbook? Do you plan on writing your own cookbook?
I like to read books that explain the story of food and their regions, so I can understand the reason why the food gets cooked and prepared in certain way, especially when it comes to street food! The cook book that I love and has been with me since 1986 is Le Ricette Regionali Italiane, seventh edition from Solares.
I’ve written more than 10,000 recipes and they are all in binder and hard drive. If I find someone willing to help me, then I will write a cook book or two!
What is new and exciting in your world these days?
I have many things going but the most exciting is to see the Four Seasons Orlando culinary team growing and become something special in the culinary field since we have many talented chefs willing to work their way up and help each other. Personally there is nothing better than seeing your cooks/chefs growing and be successful.
For the new part I would say be part of the growing culinary scene in Orlando; some of the local chefs start meeting monthly, start planning future events and exchanging ideas. The Orlando culinary world is evolving and getting better… now it needs to push to the next level and be in the same caliber as the big boys in other major U.S. cities!