On April 25, 1431, a spice-crammed Venetian ship set sail for the North Sea from the Greek island of Crete. But a storm pushed it out of control, all the way up to the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway. It was here that the sailors were introduced to dried baccalá, or cod.
They eventually returned home to Venice carrying a cargo that included 60 dried cod, along with the knowledge of how to turn this fish into a creamy delight. And thus, the iconic Venetian dish, baccalá mantecato, was born.
He’s making the famed dish: baccalá mantecato. Sure, the experienced chef makes the traditional version, which is creamy cod atop grilled white polenta (typically, a polenta mille-feuille).
But on this day, he’s decided to prepare his ultra-creative take on the classic Venetian dish. He starts with a slice of crispy black polenta for the base.
“I make a gelatin with Aperol spritz,” he says, referring to the modish and refreshing cocktail that was invented in nearby Padua in 1919. “Then I make a green-olive caviar. I put some orange confit into the mix with the cod. And finally, I garnish it with saffron ricotta.”
It’s a dish that has a multiple-flavor strata yet is all unified by the cod.
“I created the dish three years ago,” he says. “I had to go to a big culinary event in Singapore, and I created this dish for the event. And then I came back to Venice and put it on the menu.”
If you think Chef Parascandolo’s creative take on the classic dish is too out there, you’d be right — assuming by “out there” you mean it’s a fitting tribute to Venice’s long history of far-flung exploring and trading. Along with cod, saffron, cinnamon and oranges all came to Venice thanks to its sailing and trading prowess over the centuries. Indeed, the chef’s homage to the city’s history is a perfect 21st-century Venetian dish.
The meal also perfectly sums up this talented chef. Dario Parascandolo was born in Naples. His first memories of food came from — you guessed it — his mother’s kitchen. “She was very passionate in the kitchen,” he says.
His work later brought him to London, then back home to Naples, Sicily and Bologna. And at last: Venice.
So he watched. He helped out. He savored the experiences. Then, after attending cooking school when he was 24 years old, he headed for the United States — San Diego, to be exact — where he spent four years in the kitchen of a high-end hotel.
In 2014, he became the executive chef at Ristorante Terrazza Danieli in Marriott’s historic Hotel Danieli. And since March 2019, he’s been the executive chef at JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, which occupies an entire small island in the Venice lagoon.
Chef Parascandolo describes his culinary style as modern, and his restaurant concept as contemporary, with cuisine inspired by authentic Italian and Mediterranean influences.
The root of Chef Parascandolo’s success can be boiled down to one thing: “The key is to have passion,” he says. “Even if I’m making a club sandwich, I’ll do it with passion and love.” And then he adds, “It’s important to make sure that with everything that comes out of the kitchen, the guest is happy.”
The key is to have passion. Even if I’m making a club sandwich, I’ll do it with passion and love.Chef Dario Parascandolo
And happy they are — especially feasting on chef Parascandolo’s other takes on Venetian dishes. Take, for example, the dish he says best represents Venetian culture: risotto al nero di seppia. Known as “squid-ink risotto,” this dish is about as classic as they come in Venice. “You can’t change a dish too much in Venice,” says the chef. “They must remain classic. But when I make squid-ink risotto, I add cuttlefish to it because seafood is very essential to Venetian cuisine.”
Has cooking and dining changed in Venice since his arrival here? “Sí!” he says with gusto. Though to be sure, Parascandolo still visits traditional bacari, or wine bars, for the Venetian stable of chicchetti, small plates of food — typically seafood based, like creamed cod — similar to tapas.
“There is a lot of competition now, and you have to always be ready to upgrade to the trends and what’s happening in the food world. Every year something is changing.” Perhaps it was competition that drove him to get creative with baccalá mantecato, that most Venetian of dishes. Still, though, there’s one type of person that always comes first: the guest.
“Guests want ingredients that are zero kilometer,” he adds, referring to the relatively recent craze for ingredients and food that are as hyper local as possible. JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa has heeded the call.
Grown in a rooftop garden, zucchini flowers, artichokes, fennel, cherry tomatoes and aromatic herbs, among other fresh, edible delights, are plucked and then delivered straight to Chef Parascandolo’s kitchen just steps away. Everything else, the chef gets at the Rialto Market, the main outdoor food market in Venice.
Even if a visitor to the market has no idea what to buy, when they get to the market and are surrounded by the bounty of food here, inspiration “comes immediately,” Chef Parascandolo says.
Chef Parascandolo says he spends his spare time at the market, appraising — and often buying — the city’s freshest produce and fish, like sea bass, which he uses to prepare his signature dish.
First beans are made into a dense cream, and savory and sweet sauces are created using a mirepoix base — a combination of sautéed onions, celery, peppers and carrots. The sea bass is rolled around a filling of diced sea bass and fresh seasonings, sliced, then crusted with white and black sesame seeds and roasted.
The resulting dish appears like a black-and-white, yin-yang symbol — the contrasting colors of the sweet and savory sauces split by a line of the dense cream and topped with the alternate colors of the sesame-crusted sea bass.
Food trends like zero kilometers and farm-to-table fare have been embraced by food lovers and restaurants from Minneapolis to Melbourne, Penang to Prague. But Chef Parascandolo has something to say about that: “We’ve been doing this sort of thing in Italy all along. You could say that the world is finally catching up to us.”
Chef Dario Parascandolo’s Top Recipes
Ricciola Fish Tartar
Paccheri in Cherry Tomato Sauce