Born on the Amalfi Coast, the founder of the famed Café Milano sits on the board of various charities, and was presented with the Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by the president of Italy. He regularly welcomes heads of state, high-profile politicians and celebrities to his restaurant in Washington, and opened the only international branch of Café Milano in Abu Dhabi last year.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?
I was born on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and I really love my home town. I would like to wake up there.
Your perfect meal: where are you, whom are you with and what are you eating?
I love to eat at home. The idea behind Café Milano was always to create that feeling of home. I like to entertain my friends at home, because then I can dedicate myself to my guests, without being distracted by anything else around me. The food has to be simple, but great. It is about knowing your guests and what they like. I have some friends who only want to eat pasta; others who only want grilled fish. It's about catering to them. Life is not about me. Even when it comes to the business, I don't really care how much money we are going to make. The point is: how do we entertain people? Can we make a difference to their experience?
Are you a collector?
I collect ties and watches. I really like watches. They are very personal. Every day, what you wear depends on what you are doing and where you are going – are you going shopping, to a meeting, to the office? Is it raining, is it snowing, is it sunny? Based on that, you create an image in your mind of what you are going to look like. Your watch is part of that.
How would you describe your style?
You should be stylish based on your everyday needs – there should be flexibility. Since I was a kid, I've always been very picky, even down to my socks. My father used to say: 'I don't understand, why would you be so fussy about your socks, Who's going to see them?' And I'd say: 'Father, I'll see them.' I dress for myself, not for others. And I think that's the way it should be. You also have to have a passion for details, I think – although I am not quite sure if that's a great thing, or a curse.
Where do you like to shop?
For clothes, I like Prada and I like Zegna.
What does your dream home look like?
I'm really happy with my home in Washington. It's a very old home, but it's right in the middle of the city and it has pretty much everything that we need. There's a great, very big garden and we grow all our own vegetables there. And we have a greenhouse for the winter. There is a pool that I have probably never used, because I spend my summers in Italy, but it's heated just in case we want a winter dip. I also really like my home in Italy, on the Amalfi Coast.
Is there anywhere you haven't travelled to, but would like to?
I've never been to the Seychelles.
Where is your next holiday destination?
I have nothing booked because I've just spent three months in Italy, travelling around. In the summer, I entertain my guests in Italy.
What three things do you always take with you when you travel?
A watch, for sure. It will, of course, depend on where I'm going, but also a pair of jeans and a suit.
Café Milano in Washington will celebrate its 25th anniversary in November. What is the secret to the restaurant's success?
Our philosophy is to understand our guests. In a city where you have a lot of people from different political parties, you need to understand who is who. When we first opened we had The Washington Post constantly asking us: 'Who came? What did they eat? Who paid the cheque?' We never said anything. We make people feel comfortable; we accommodate them. You know, in the US, a lot of business gets done on the golf course. But I've always felt that going to a restaurant is about more than just food – although the food does need to be great. It's a very special thing to be able to bring people together around the same table.