Elio Orsara was born on October 25, 1966, in the picturesque town of Cetraro in the region of Calabria on the southern tip of the Italian peninsula. Cetraro, with its neat rows of earth-orange houses and green olive fields, has a steep slope that sweeps down from a hilly countryside onto a charming port and resort village. Every summer, the town teems with visitors from all over Europe, doubling and sometimes tripling the indigenous population. This was the setting of the locanda of Luigina, Elio’s grandmother, a wonderful chef who cooked for her guests just like a mother preparing food for her own family. This was also the setting for the child Elio, who, even at a young age, already started dreaming of venturing out into the world...
As a teenager Elio first worked in Calabria’s 5-star Grand Hotel San Michele. He acquired further training in Milan and London. It was right after opening his first café restaurant in Spain that Elio dreamed the “American Dream”. To get to America, he joined the kitchen staff of the Princess Cruise ship “The Love Boat”, learning all he could about cooking, cuisine and management. Ever hungry for greater knowledge and experience, Elio jumped ship and worked his way around a number of Italian restaurants in Los Angeles. None provided the kind of atmosphere or challegenge that he sought. He realized then that America was not for him, and he returned to Italy. Back on home soil, he honed his skills by working as a chef in the premier restaurant of a golf club: La forza del destino – the power of fate! He met a golf-loving Japanese at the club, who turned out to be an influential member of Japan’s Daiei, a company involved in supermarkets, hotels and restaurants... and the rest is history. Off to Asia went Elio.
Elio Orsara began his love affair with Japan as a supervisor in an Italian restaurant at the New Kobe Oriental Hotel. His adventurous spirit helped him overcome the language and cultural barriers. Whenever he had some time off work, he immersed himself in traditional Japanese culture. He visited the ancient city of Kyoto. The experience was overwhelming and it proved to be a turning point in his young adult life. The quiet bowing, the warm and beautiful smile, the graceful movements. Even if he didn’t understand Nippongo, Elio was completely awed by Japanese hospitality and sense of service. This engendered in him more curiosity about Japan, and he soon found himself supervising two restaurants managed by the Daiei Group. Finally, destiny took him to Tokyo. He worked in Shinjuku where he began developing a core group of highly valued, extremely loyal customers, many of whom also became dear friends.
The birth of Elio, the restaurant
Elio Locanda Italiana opened for business (and pleasure) in December 1996, a month after Elio Orsara got married. Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. As the saying goes, one door closes, another one opens. Elio lost his way a few times, but he never gave up. The dream lived on. He had but one goal: to offer the truest Italian cuisine, the local food culture, and the warm hospitality of his grandmother Luigina. This remains the credo of Elio and the restaurant that bears his name.
Elio Locanda Italiana has gained fame not only for its authentic Italian flavour, but also for its Italian brand of service, even among Italians in Japan. The place has earned tremendous publicity and the reputation of being “the restaurant which Giorgio Armani often visits”. The local press refers to restaurateur Elio as “the young Italian chef who fell in love with Japan”. Through the years, both restaurant and owner have been extensively covered in various TV programs and magazines. Elio himself took part in a great many events including the annual Italian Fair. He gave lectures on food culture and even worked with an impresario on a unique collaboration between Italian opera and Italian food. Like a true Japanophile, he participated in a slow food festival in Niigata, the prefecture famous for its rice, where local farmers tasted Italian risotto made with the rice they had produced. Elio truly relished these wonderful engaging encounters with people everywhere along the Japanese archipelago.
Elio’s Coffe made its own mark from 2001 until the end of 2005. Another unforgettable event was Expo 2005 in Aichi Prefecture where Elio served as the general producer of the Italian Pavilion’s restaurants. He chuckles whenever he recalls getting caught in the crossfire between the Italian and the Japanese organizers: at such moment, he forgot whether he was Italian or Japanese.
Elio Catering Service
A request from Giorgio Armani actually inspired Elio to enter into the catering business. Here, he aims to accommodate various customers’ and clients’ requests, according to choice of food, number of guests, services including personnel and equipment required, and budget. His central kitchen can prepare food for 20 or 2,000. Elio Catering has produced catered parties for the Italian Embassy, the Italian Cultural Institute and various Italian companies, as well as for the Tokyo Motor Show and private home parties. Elio is especially proud of the catering service he provided for no less than Japan’s imperial family. “In the catering business,” he says, “there is no room for error.” It is this degree of passionate commitment that won for Elio in 2006 an award from the Republic of Italy: the Cavalieri Order. “This pleased my parents to no end,” he adds. Speaking of family, his consists of his wife and their two sons, and, of course, his staff.
- Elio in his childhood
- At "Grand Hotel San Michele"
- Elio with his great teacher
- Elio in the U.S.
- Elio at the café-restaurant “Rosso e Nero”
- At Elio Locanda