Meet Italian Chef Enzo Neri – Restaurateur, Philanthropist, Designer

Exclusive Interview

Meeting Italian chef Enzo Neri on a hot summer’s morning in Vake, it is impossible not to be won over by his infectious Italian flair. He enthusiastically tells his story in an accent loaded with Italian and British tones – a testament to his career which has taken him around the world.

From working in Michelin starred restaurants in his native Italy, to heading restaurants on Broadway in New York and Park Lane in London, to establishing the kitchen at Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach and RIVA Beach and setting up a restaurant in Montenegro, Enzo’s CV is impressive.

Since coming to Georgia for the first time in 2015, invited by Gia Piradashvili to hold a masterclass event, after which he decided to make the move more permanent in 2017, Enzo has left his mark on the Georgian hospitality scene. He has worked with some of the country’s top restaurants, including La Boheme, Andropov’s Ears, Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel, and Bioli Medical Wellness Resort in Kojori. Currently, he is working to develop the food at George Pirahashvili’s ‘II Cortile by Chef Enzo’ in Kakheti.

Entering the hospitality industry in Georgia has not always been easy. “There’s a lack of ingredients,” Enzo explains. “Radicchio, fennel… I can’t find it here. Nobody wants to eat it.”

Finding the right service has also been difficult. “Nobody wants to work in hospitality – coming from New York, it was a shock to see the service in Georgia,” Enzo tells GEORGIA TODAY. “In New York, people could earn $400 a day in tips. It was a completely different situation in Georgia.”

Over time, he has built a network of people that he trusts, even sending a team of Georgian staff to run a new restaurant in Kotor in Montenegro.

By adapting his menu to suit both Georgian and international tastes and opening a string of successful restaurants, Enzo has cemented his name on the Georgian culinary scene, especially after creating his signature chocolate khinkali. “There are no borders in food – khinkali, ravioli, it’s the same, just different shapes. I just put two ingredients together.”

Enzo is now turning his attention to charitable causes in Georgia. Recently, he helped Nina Gagua to organize a charity project in Dzegvi shelter to help the local community. “People call me the philanthropist chef,” he says. “There was nothing like this when I came to Georgia, I wanted to help.”

Enzo worked together with chefs from the Biltmore Hotel in Tbilisi for the event. “I cooked for 78 people including 15 kids with Nino Gagua,” he explains. “I used to do some charity work in New York and London. I wanted to give something back but I couldn’t find a way to do any charity. I couldn’t believe it, I see many people who need help on a daily basis.” They also distributed toys to children in the village.

Following the success of the first event, he plans to hold more charitable events in other towns in Georgia in future. He also hopes to complete the construction of a kitchen at the shelter in Dzegvi.

But that’s not all. Enzo spotted a gap in the market for chef’s wear in Tbilisi: “There is no company creating decent chef jackets,” he explains. “I do something cool with new designs, as well as classic.”

Enzo paired up with textile designer Sofi Zukakishvili to create chef’s clothing for the Georgian market. Together, they have established ‘Zook’s Uniforms by Chef EnZo,’ using quality fabrics and design to create comfortable and stylish chef wear.

With so many projects on the go in Georgia, GEORGIA TODAY asks Enzo if he plans to stay: “I think I’m settling down a little bit,” he says with a grin.

By Amy Jones

Image source: Adrian Scoffham

18 July 2019 18:52