Sergio Mitrotti

Jo McGarry photo

Chef/Owner Café Sistina.

Where were you born? Torino, Italy.

I don’t really need to even ask about your childhood food memories. I’m sure the cooking was amazing. (laughs). Well, yes, of course. My mother would cook three meals a day for us – from scratch. Can you imagine that today? Food is the binder for an Italian family. The thing that keeps us together. That’s why sharing my food here at Café Sistina is really a connection to my childhood and to where I grew up.

And, like most Italian men, you eat well and still look fabulous! Well, I try. (laughs ) I love the ocean. I sail a lot, scuba dive. I love to be out there under the sun.

I’m wondering if you even have time to cook at home these days. Not too much now, but when I was younger and lived in Italy, I cooked at home all the time. It was unusual for an Italian man to cook at home during the ’70s. My then-wife was a union leader for women’s rights, and I cooked at home!

So what’s always in your fridge at home? Walnuts, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, tomatoes, mozzarella, greens.

Favorite restaurants in Honolulu? I don’t go to Italian restaurants, of course (laughs). I like ethnic foods, Vietnamese and Thai food especially. I like exploring food. I wish people would do that with Italian food more – explore the food and the art.

You have a new bouillabaisse dish on the menu that people are raving about …Yes, it has many different names in Italy – brodetto, brujet, cioppino. Bouillabaisse is maybe the best-known (French) name. I went to New York last summer, and my brother asked me to make it for his group of friends. It was such a big hit I came back here and made it at the restaurant. It has become unbelievably popular.

With whom would you most like to have dinner at Café Sistina? Michelangelo and George Washington. I don’t know why I made the connection, but I could talk to both of them and I think together they would be fascinating conversationalists.

Everyone knows you are a talented painter – we need only look at the walls of the restaurant to see your art. Anything else you may have been if not a chef/restaurateur/artist? Yes. In my teens my ambition was to sail around the world alone. I still have that ambition to sail alone across the ocean. You never know …

If you had to give only one piece of advice to this new generation of restaurateurs, what would it be? That’s a difficult question. I think I would tell them that a restaurant is a very beautiful way to express yourself. I would say be true to yourself. Put all the love you have into it, and it will reflect in your food – and maybe save you.