Interview with Chef Keli, Portofino, Bangsar

The specialty in Portofino is homemade fresh pasta. The seafood ravioli stuffed with lobster and prawns, the squid ink pasta and the tortellini, are best sellers. For dessert, you must try the tiramisu made with Marsala wine zabaione.

Why did you choose Malaysia? 

It was by chance really. I came for a holiday and really liked what I found. When I went back to Italy I proposed to my friend Luca that we invest in Malaysia. It was very easy to convince him. In less than a week we’d bought our travel tickets, and began the nine month opening process.

What do you enjoy most about Malaysia?  I really like the weather. It is a dream for me to live in the tropics. I enjoy diving, so a chance to visit so many beautiful islands such a Tioman, Langkawi, Labuan, Sabah and the Perhentians is like a dream come true.

What do you do and how did you get into the industry? 

I’ve had a passion for good food since I was a young child. I always helped my mom cooking at home and it was very easy for me to choose what to do with my life.  I registered in a cooking school called “istituto alberghiero Orio Vergani” at Ferrara, Italy. In five years I had a diploma in cooking. It was an amazing experience for me. I was studying every day and for the summer holidays I started to work in a 4 star hotel in Milano Marittima, called Hotel Bellettini, when I was just 14 years old. Every year I returned back to this hotel.  The first year wasn’t easy. The only thing I got to do was peel garlic and potatoes, cut onions and clean the kitchen. I worked every day for at least 10 hours. I was always the last to leave the kitchen. In these first three months, I learned discipline. When I went back the second year, I began earning a bit more and I was able to be more involved with the cooks. I learned very fast. The third year I started doing the pasta section. Every year in this hotel I had more responsibility and I became very important for the main chef. After I finished the diploma, I started to work in the best restaurant in my town called Il Don Giovanni with a Michelin Star, and it was in this place that I perfected the skill of hand making pasta. Other restaurants followed such as Il Tinello in Bologna, Da Pippi in Poggio Renatico… and now I’m here!

What’s the best/ worst part of your job? 

The best part of this job is that you can travel the world, and girls like guys that know how to cook. The worst part is that you can’t spend too much time with your family. When your friends are enjoying the weekend you are working until late. In the kitchen it is very hot and tiring, and you need to try every thing and make sure everything is just perfect for the customer to have a good experience.

What’s your favourite food and wine pairing?

My favourite drink is red wine. I enjoy a glass of Lambrusco or Barolo nightly. My favourite food is fish and I find wonderful seafood in Malaysia. They have amazing tiger-king prawns, spiny lobster, squids, red snapper, garoupa and lots of other tropical fish. In Portofino we have a good choice of seafood, which I buy fresh myself in the local market.

What’s one of the  funniest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?

I started to cook when I was 14 and now I am 25 years old, so I did a lot of funny things. Once I was making 600 Cottolette (a famous Italian dish made by deep frying meat and bread in very hot oil) for a function. It was funny because I started to prepare it at 7am in the morning and I finished it 10 hours later!

What do you do for fun?

I like fishing and playing basketball with friends. One day I’d like to learn how to prepare Japanese cuisine. I have a good friend in Yokohama called Naoto and he has an Italian-Japanese restaurant, “Cambusa.” One day, when I have a bit more free time, I will go to visit him.

What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?

There’ll be a few changes to the menu and we’ll be expanding our wine list to offer more Italian wines.

Check out some of chef Kel’s dishes and scrumptious handmade pasta here. 


  1. He is a handsome man, and I like his outlook. Great interview. 🙂

  2. Hi! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects? Many thanks!|

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  4. A real Italian. eh? And a good looking one at that! Nothing can get any more authentic than that, I guess – none of those half-baked local chefs at their so-called fusion places especially.

  5. You are very good looking for a chef, Please come to Bali some time….. will you?

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