With over 15 years experience working in some of London’s top restaurants – including several Michelin-starred kitchens – Italian-born Chef Carlo Scotto opened his first solo venture, Xier and XR in Marylebone, in March 2019.
As Chef Owner, 33-year-old Carlo oversees the dual restaurant concept which features fine dining upstairs at Xier with XR, on the ground floor, offering a more informal à la carte dining experience.
Whilst Scotto is responsible for the creation of menus in both dining rooms, it is in the kitchen of Xier that you will find him, developing and creating his 10-course tasting menu for up to 38 diners. Through this menu, Scotto’s signature creativity shines through with dishes marrying unusual flavours and experimental techniques. Whilst the menu uses mainly organic British produce, Scotto takes influences from Japan and Scandinavia, where he has travelled extensively.
Demonstrating a passion for food even as a child, he began his career at the tender age of 13. Working as a chef’s apprentice, he cleaned pots and plates at the Michelin-starred restaurant Don Salvatore in his native Naples, before moving on to food preparation tasks.
In 2008 he relocated to London taking his first chef position with Corbin & King before joining the Michelin-starred Murano, where he met Head Chef and mentor Angela Hartnett. The kitchen at Galvin La Chapelle followed before Scotto took a head chef position at the age of 26 in Mayfair restaurant, Babbo.
When not in the kitchen, Scotto travels as much as possible. For him, travelling is less about uncovering new ingredients, and more about discovering the cultures behind the ingredients and bringing this to the table through his theatrical and experimental cuisine.
WHY DID YOU START COOKING? I grew up in a town just outside of Naples, and to help keep me out of trouble my parents encouraged me to get a job from a young age. When I was just 13, I started as a chef’s apprentice at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Naples called Don Salvatore. To start with I was just responsible for cleaning pots and clearing plates, but I soon moved on to helping prep the food and from then I was hooked.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST FOOD MEMORY? Definitely pasta! From the age of five, I can remember having spaghetti vongole on Saturdays and lasagne on Sundays, always the same without fail. Coming from Naples, this is a pretty typical weekend family meal. I used to only eat the cheesy, crispy topping of lasagne, and that’s actually a trait that’s stayed with me to this day.
WHY COOK? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU? I love the creativity involved with being a chef. I have so much freedom to express myself and bring my ideas to life, and I love seeing people enjoy my cooking, it’s such a thrill.
WHERE DID YOU TRAIN? I worked my way up through various kitchens, starting with Michelin-starred Don Salvatore in Naples. In 2008, I relocated to London and took my first chef position with Corbin & King before joining Michelin-starred Murano. After that, I worked at Galvin La Chapelle, and then as Head Chef at Babbo in Mayfair before opening Xier | XR in 2019.
WHO IS/WAS YOUR FOOD MENTOR? I wouldn’t say I have a specific chef or a person. I truly believe that travelling and discovering the world and different cultures is the best mentor that a chef can have. It is also, of course, true that to be a top chef you have to work for top chefs, which I have done, but their cuisine is nothing to do with what I do at Xier.
WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU LEARNED THIS YEAR THAT CHANGED THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT FOOD? With the pandemic, I realised that nothing is certain in life. I learnt that my creativity in the kitchen is what helped my restaurant to be able to reopen again, as our offering is so different from anything else. With this in mind, I’m determined to push the boundaries even further and to continue giving our diners experiences that they have never had.
DO YOU THINK BEING A GREAT CHEF IS A NATURAL TALENT, OR IS IT SOMETHING ANYONE CAN LEARN? I think it’s a little bit of both. Some people are absolutely born with a natural talent or inclination to cooking, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still need to work hard to perfect it. Equally, if someone perhaps doesn’t have that raw talent but has passion and determination, they too can succeed.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING PROFESSIONAL CHEFS WHO’D WANT THE KIND OF RESULTS THAT YOU’VE HAD? Be prepared to work incredibly hard. The restaurant industry is a challenging one, now more than ever, and if you want to succeed you need to understand it’s not going to be an easy ride, you need to be fully determined and dedicated. I’d also say work for the best chefs at that moment and once you have learnt your craft, travel as much as you can, invest every penny in yourself and never stop learning.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? Opening Xier | XR is definitely the highlight of my career. It was incredible to be able to create something entirely my way, have complete freedom to be creative, and do things differently.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE AIM AND GOAL FOR YOUR CAREER? IF YOU COULD ACHIEVE ANYTHING WITH IT, WHAT WOULD YOU PICK? My goal is ultimately to achieve excellence – I’m a perfectionist so I’m always striving to be better, do more, go to that next level. I would also love to own a hotel and a club though!
WHAT DRIVES YOU, AND WHAT MAKES YOU PUT IN THOSE CRAZY HOURS THAT LEAD TO SUCCESS IN THE CULINARY WORLD? My determination for excellence.
WHO INSPIRES YOU AS A CHEF? Angela Hartnett was a great source of inspiration, and I learnt a great deal from her, she really helped me on the way to becoming the chef I am today. I’m also really inspired by the Galvin brothers, in particular Jeff Galvin. Working with him closely made me realise that no matter what stage you are in your life, you should always be the first in and the last out at work. This made me learn that hard work and dedication are paramount to success, no matter how big you become. Seeing Jeff Galvin in the kitchen every day, and seeing his dedication, is something that will stay with me forever.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR INSPIRATION AND WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES? I take a lot of inspiration from different cultures and cuisines – I’ve travelled a lot, largely in Japan, France, USA, Scandinavia, and these places have been incredible sources of inspiration. I am also easily inspired by a number of things – by something that looks visually appealing, by a texture, a smell, a flavour, anything really.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN? I was once told to never let my ego run my business and to leave my ego at the door in everything I do. This has been instrumental to my career, as in a business such as hospitality everybody has an opinion. Whether it’s good or bad feedback, I remove my ego from the equation and always take it as constructive.
WHAT ASPECT OF BEING A CHEF IS MOST GRATIFYING FOR YOU? There’s nothing better than speaking with the diners while they’re eating my food, and giving them that extra special experience that they never ever will forget.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DON’T LIKE ABOUT BEING A CHEF? I’d say my least favourite thing about being a chef is how time-consuming it is. I, unfortunately, am sacrificing precious time that could be spent with my two children, and that is something I constantly battle with and struggle to forgive myself for.
WHAT’S YOUR CULINARY PHILOSOPHY? Pushing boundaries and trying to utilise everything that mother nature has given us, even the more unusual things!
HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR CUISINE? My cuisine at Xier is precise, elegant and refined, using truly unusual flavour combinations that surprise and delight guests. I’d also say there’s a touch of madness in there – I’m not afraid to take risks with flavours and textures and ingredients as that’s how you get the best results.
WHAT DISH ON YOUR MENU MOST DEFINES YOU AND YOUR COOKING STYLE? The salmon and foie gras probably is the dish that showcases what I do best. It’s a stunning dish, with the perfect balance of flavour and texture. When I was creating it, I was told by a number of people ‘no this won’t work’, they didn’t believe the flavours would marry well, but I had a real vision for the dish. I saw it through and proved them all wrong.
WHAT’S YOUR CURRENT FOOD OBSESSION? My menu at Xier of course.
IF SOMEONE WAS LOOKING FOR A RESTAURANT TO DINE OUT AT THIS MONTH AND YOU HAD ONE SENTENCE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO COME TO XIER, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? A meal at Xier is quite unlike anything else you’ll experience. You’ll try flavour combinations you never would have imagined, presented in creative and beautiful ways, and the whole restaurant experience will certainly leave a lasting memory in your mind.
WHAT’S THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS THING YOU’VE SEEN A CHEF DO? One time, I saw a chef in the kitchen that I used to work at blending a soup that we had on our menu. This was a new creation and all of us were told to blend the soup, take a spoon and taste the soup – as you usually do in a kitchen. The chef next to me lifted the hand blender (still plugged in) and licked the metal blades with his tongue, then looked at me and said, “very good chef”. The whole kitchen was in shock as to his blatant disregard for safety, and two seconds later he then proceeded to continue blending. If the blender had switched on for any reason, he could have lost his tongue in a matter of seconds!
WORST KITCHEN NIGHTMARE? One day having no more creative ideas for my food.
WHAT GOLDEN RULES DO YOU HAVE IN THE KITCHEN? No matter how busy and manic things can get, I like for the kitchen to be calm and quiet.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE INGREDIENT TO COOK WITH? WHY? Citrus, I love the way citrus fruits change the flavour of a dish.
WHAT’S ONE INGREDIENT THAT YOU REALLY DON’T LIKE? I’m not a big fan of wasabi.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST INDISPENSABLE KITCHEN TOOL? WHY? My knives. I always sharpen my knives until they are razor sharp and I’m pretty protective of them.
WHAT’S THE ONE PIECE OF KITCHEN EQUIPMENT YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT? WHY? A blender. We use it in the kitchen all day long for so many different things.
WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST THING YOU’VE EVER EATEN? As a chef, you of course taste a lot of different and unusual ingredients, but by far the worst thing I’ve ever tried is mealworms.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE FOOD? I absolutely love baguettes and they’re one of my favourite things to make. I like to play around with different flavours and fillings from all around the world – there’s so much potential to what you can create. One of my favourite fillings is onion and pepper stew with beef fillet and some lettuce for garnish, but the possibilities are endless.
LAST THING YOU COOKED FOR YOURSELF? Scrambled egg with a nice slice of toasted sourdough bread.
IF YOU HAD UNEXPECTED GUESTS ARRIVING AT YOUR HOME FOR DINNER IN 1 HOUR, WHAT WOULD YOU WHIP UP? I’d go for a simple pasta dish. Even though I’m an Italian that does not cook a great deal of Italian food, I think pasta is a dish that I will always have in my blood.
WHAT’S ONE FOOD TREND THAT NEEDS TO END? Cooking with insects. I love more than most to experiment and push boundaries, but I just don’t understand the fascination with eating bugs, and I think that really needs to stop.
WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE EMERGING IN THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY NOW? I think people in the industry are going to continue to push the boundaries with plant-based food. Veganism isn’t going anywhere, so I think chefs will continue to innovate their plant-based offerings, proving that you don’t need to have meat or dairy for it to be a meal or for it to be delicious.
HOW DO YOU KEEP UP TO DATE WITH TRENDS AND HAPPENINGS IN THE FOOD WORLD? I read a lot online, keeping up to date with news platforms as well as industry titles. I also follow some great chefs from around the world on social media that are often doing something different that maybe hasn’t come to the UK yet, and this is a great way to keep ahead of trends. I also of course love to travel to these countries (or I did when we were allowed to do so!) to see first-hand what is going on in the food world.
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT THE RESTAURANT SCENE IN LONDON? The London restaurant scene really pushes boundaries. Being in London has made me and my peers strive to achieve heights in cooking that nobody has before. The level of cooking in London is arguably the highest in the world, and being a chef in London means that you always have to be on your toes, and never slack. We are constantly developing techniques every single day to become better and in a city like London, you can never stop. This is the main reason I love London so much.
WHAT’S THE BEST MEAL YOU’VE EVER EATEN? WHY? The best meal I’ve ever had has to be at Gastrologik in Sweden. The flavours, freshness, service and the whole atmosphere is something I will never forget. They served a menu of 20 courses, each one flowing perfectly to the next. It was a truly inspiring experience.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS? 10 YEARS? In five years, being known for offering a truly unique dining experience. In ten years, owning my own hotel and club.
IS THERE MORE STILL THAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH IN YOUR CAREER? Absolutely, excellence is something that every chef thrives for, but you always want more.
IF YOU WEREN’T DOING WHAT YOU DO NOW, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD? I always loved studying chemistry at school when I was young, so I think I would have pursued something in that path if I hadn’t become a chef or an MMA fighter.