Home Sweet Home
A man on a mission
Elio Orsara is on a mission. “I want the people of Japan to know the true culture, taste the true flavour, and experience the true joy of Italy.” Whether you have dined at Elio Locanda Italiana, taken advantage of genuine imports available online at Vera Italia, or availed yourself of Elio’s Italian Catering Service for your own hosted affairs, the Orsara “family” delivers authentic Italian fare and home-grown hospitality. The locanda of Luigina, Elio’s grandmother, was in a picturesque setting in Calabria, southern Italy, that teemed with visitors from all over Europe every summer, doubling, sometimes tripling the town’s population. The steep slopes of Cetraro, with its neat rows of earth-orange houses and green olive fields, would sweep down onto the resort village and charming port, facing an ocean rich with sea life. Elio remembers with fondness – and devotion – how Luigina, a wonderful chef, would use natural local ingredients in cooking for her guests, as a mother would prepare food for her own family. Luigina’s recipes and homespun hospitality experienced firsthand by the young Elio remain vital sources of inspiration. In another fine Orsara tradition, the celebrity chef takes pride in handpicking high-quality, organic ingredients from selected “local” Japanese farmers and among fresh sea life of the surrounding oceans. Like life back in Cetraro, what brings customers to Elio – building a loyal clientele that includes celebrities – is unpretentious authenticity. “What I really do is put Italian culture on a plate!” Orsara has shown this passion and loyalty to familial roots from the very beginning, as a teenager working in Calabria’s 5-star Grand Hotel San Michele, and acquiring further training in Milan. Following overseas experiences in London, on the high seas, and in Los Angeles, Orsara was anxious to get back to his roots. He returned to Italy, honing his skills as a chef in a golf course’s premiere restaurant, La forza dell destino.
Arriving in Japan
Elio’s first foray on Japanese soil was as a supervisor of an Italian restaurant at the New Kobe Oriental Hotel. His immersion in the culture and language encouraged him to accept supervising two restaurants managed by the Daiei Group. Finally, as destiny would have it, Orsara came to work in Shinjuku, where extremely loyal customers – many becoming dear friends – came into his life. It was in December 1996, a month after getting married, when Orsara founded a restaurant that bears his name – Elio Locanda Italiana – and embodies his life’s mission. A request from none other than Giorgio Armani actually inspired the catering business. An expansive central kitchen at a separate location from the restaurant is where Elio accommodates varied customers’ and clients’ requests within their budget, whether for 20 or 2,000 guests. “In the catering business, there is no room for error.” His unwavering devotion to excellence has earned Elio the coveted Cavalieri Order from the Republic of Italy in 2006. Upon receiving such an honour, he expressed the very essence of what continues to matter most. “This pleased my parents to no end.”
Elio Antica Forneria is a converted house that includes a delicatessen selling imported items such as olive oil, pasta, tomato sauce, wine, raw ham salami, cheeses, sweets and coffee, organic produce, Venetian glass, and more. A café shop offers exclusive obentos of the freshest, handpicked, highest-quality organic ingredients; and breads baked onsite using no accelerates and prepared slowly, the natural way. Whether participating in a slow food festival in Niigata where local farmers tasted Italian risotto made with their rice, or serving as the general producer of the Italian Pavilion restaurants at the World Expo 2005 in Aichi Prefecture, Elio relishes those moments when he forgets “whether I am Italian or Japanese.” The Orsara family in Japan includes his wife and their two sons … and, of course, his devoted staff.