Italy's top female chef mixes it up with flavors from a tiny island

In this file photo taken on July 22, Martina Caruso, " Signum " restaurant chef, poses outdoor her restaurant in Salina,Italy, one of the Eolian Sicilian islands. -AFP

SALINA, ITALY - Award-winning young Italian chef Martina Caruso's love of food is in her blood -- and she has the tattoos to prove it.

At just 29, Caruso has become a hit in the world of haute cuisine by using the sunshine flavors of her tiny volcanic island of Salina and giving a modern twist to traditional recipes.

Earlier this year, she was named Italy's female chef of 2019 -- just three years after she became the youngest Italian to win a Michelin star at the family-run Signum restaurant and hotel on Salina.

The flavors from the idyllic island infuse Caruso's dishes and her favorite ingredients are even tattooed on her arm: garlic, oil, hot pepper, octopus and the sea.

From a young age she watched her father Michele, who as Signum's chef was devoted to traditional recipes.

"At first, my father did not give me any room, he did not want me to become a chef, a tiring job," Caruso says.

But she flew the nest for three years to train at a cookery school near Sicily's capital Palermo.

Caruso later took her place as a chef in the family restaurant, where she showed off her technical and creative ways of cooking.

"I convinced my father by showing him what I knew how to do."

Her mantra is "simplicity", says Caruso, who was awarded the female chef of the year title by the Italian Michelin guide and Veuve Clicquot in March.

"But simple doesn't mean it's easy," she laughs.

In one of her appetizers, Caruso takes "bagna cauda"-- a typical dish from Piedmont in northern Italy, which consists of garlic and anchovies, but gives it a Sicilian kick by using sea urchins.

Salina is known for its capers, which she makes into ice cream, something to be savored in small quantities due to the potent flavor of the tiny green berries.

Her menu also includes chargriled moray eel, which she cooks on embers in her garden. The delicate white fish is scarcely eaten on the island today but she is keen to continue using the traditional ingredient. -AFP