Most chefs go to work in a small, hot room lit by blinding fluorescent strip lighting, filled with sweaty men and women wielding sharp knives. Not so for Giacomo Notarbartolo, executive chef at our eponymous Nobu restaurant. “I can see the sea from my kitchen,” he says, beaming. “I love being so close to it. This place is so beautiful.” For the Milan-born chef, arriving at Nobu in Ibiza was a culmination of hard work and dreams coming true. After just three years of climbing the ranks at Nobu – first in Miami and then in Milan – he was entrusted with heading up his first restaurant at the tender age of 29.
As most Italians will attest, their love of food and cooking is inherent and passed down from grandmothers and mothers. “My mother always put a lot of passion into her cooking so it was predictable that I would be the same,” Notarbartolo says.
In the world of cheffing, a stage is not something to be found in a theatre but a rite of passage for all young chefs – not unlike an internship, they test their mettle in the world’s top kitchens for little to no pay and a whole lot of teasing. “I spent about three years working stages,” says Notarbartolo. “My schooling was very hands-on.” His years working stages culminated in positions within Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy and London before moving to Miami and entering the world of Nobu Matsuhisa. “I started at the bottom,” he says. “And little by little, I moved up.”
While he was at Nobu in Milan, Notarbartolo got the call about Ibiza. “I had come to the island as a teenager to celebrate graduating from high school,” he recalls. He admits that from a career perspective, being offered the job was an honour but he was a little sceptical about living in Ibiza at first. “I was worried it would be too superficial and all about parties,” he says. “But I’m discovering the island more and more. I’m falling in love with this place. I love being away from the hectic life of a big city. You can find peace here no matter what time of year it is. ”
There are 31 kitchen staff under his command and an average day for Notarbartolo starts at around 2pm when he arrives, checks on his team, responds to emails and attends meetings before installing himself in the kitchen for the night service. “Fortunately, I’m in the kitchen a lot which is what I love the most,” he says with a smile.
Alongside the classic Nobu menu, there are six dishes on the Nobu ibiza menu – developed by Notarbartolo to reflect the essence of Ibiza mixed with the flavours of Japan. Garlic prawns come with yuzu or a sea bass en papillote with black garlic butter and hierbas made with soy is a twist on tradition. Every two weeks, Notarbartolo adds specials that reflect the prodigious local produce prepared in the Nobu style. “I work on fusing the Spanish traditions with the flavours of Japan,” he says. “For example, I made a local lamb with rosemary which is a classic pairing but then I added miso. We’ve also made black cod croquettes with a spicy miso and garlic sauce.”
When he’s not working, Notarbartolo can be found in or near the sea –windsurfing, sailing, discovering more of his beautiful adopted home and eating out in the island’s more traditional restaurants. “I find a lot of inspiration in the old-style places,” he explains. “I’ll start from the original recipe, then try to see how I can make it in the Nobu style with Japanese products and methods.” When he has an idea near completion, he takes it to his team and together they test and play until it’s just right. With three seasons under his belt, Notarbartolo feels that the restaurant is up to standard but is always looking to evolve. “Now my challenge is to keep improving,” he says. “I love the work and my team and the island has really good energy.” It seems that Island life, and Nobu life, agrees with him.