Passion is at the heart of everything we do here at Itz'ana. Every single person on staff is hand-selected because they bring something incredible to our table.
Nowhere is this more evident than with Enrico Cordenons, our administrative assistant, resident gastronome and soon-to-be master rum specialist. His passion for local cuisines and the best of international wines make him everyone's favorite team member at any meal.
If you've been lucky enough to attend one of our pop-up restaurants on the beach, you're already acquainted with him, but for everyone else we thought we'd sit down with Enrico and find out what drives his infectious joie de vivre.
Q: You came to Belize after a stint as a wine educator at the Banca del Vino in Italy. What drew you to our shores?
Enrico: I've worked in hospitality all over Europe, from my home in the Prosecco-producing valleys near Venice to Provence, Costa Brava and Madrid. Thanks to a friend I transitioned to working as a tour guide in the Chianti region and immediately fell in love with the connection between food, culture and nature as I was guiding guests through wineries, olive mills and organic farms.
As fate would have it, on my day off I took part in a "gastro-bike tour" through Florence and learned about the University of Gastronomic Sciences (established by Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement). I was lucky to be accepted and spent 3 years studying with the most passionate "gastronomes" and working as a guide in the Banca del Vino's cellar - which contains over a hundred thousand Italian wines.
In order to complete my thesis, I chose to do an internship in Southern Belize, where thanks to Mara Jernigan I was able to study tropical gastronomy and work with local Maya communities to understand how cacao farming can help rainforest conservation and the social growth in remote regions.
Q: What excites you most about Belize's burgeoning food scene?
Enrico: I'm definitely in love with Belizean chocolate, because it's made in this unique country where English-speaking Maya communities have held on to their traditions and respect towards nature just as their ancestors did.
I also love the beautiful barrier reef that lets local fishermen practice sustainable fishery, especially when it comes to a respect for seasonality. On top of that the cultural variety of food here, from Garifuna to Maya to Latin to Creole, makes Belize a gastronomic playground. I feel very lucky.
Q: You are renowned amongst our guests for your passion when you help to host the Limilita pop-up restaurants, particularly when describing the wine pairings. What is your process for choosing which wine accompanies each dish?
Enrico: When choosing wine, my main goal is to support the chef and be the voice of his/her plates for the guests. You can't pair wine without having basic kitchen experience - the wine selection has to be inspired by the chef's vision - but I also like to think that I can suggest wines during the creation of the plate in order to pursue a harmony of taste.
I try to use local indigenous grapes (Gavi, Chablis, Barbera, GSM) vs. international grapes (Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir), and - whenever possible - organic and sustainably farmed. I love to help guests discover all the wine regions of the world, but I always sneak an Italian wine in the menu.
I'm a gastronome, which means I like to approach food from a 360-degree perspective, from history to chemistry, anthropology to philosophy, you name it. I'm planning to become a certified sommelier in the next 2 years, but for now I'm concentrating on widening my knowledge of Caribbean and Latin American rum for the soon-to-open Rum Bar at Itz'ana.
Q: What do you think will make Itz'ana unique in the international food scene?
Enrico: Limilita has been a wonderful test kitchen, letting us play with all kinds of dishes and wines. But we've never lost sight of the fact that we hold a great responsibility to create a food and beverage program at Itz'ana that will outlast the pop-up. These months of experimentation have given us a very clear vision of how we will achieve this.
I'm constantly looking for "food heroes", "tropical pioneers" and "pirate farmers". That's who we're gathering at Itz'ana. Belize is a young country trying to adapt to the demanding ecotourism industry, and my goal is to make Itz'ana an influential player in the supply chain by drawing a 150-mile-circle around ourselves and sourcing as many products as possible from within this region. Local is always better.
We're also currently working on a school garden project in order to educate younger generations on the importance of land management and create economic and social benefits through the presence of ecotourism.
Q: What are you most excited to experience here in Placencia?
Enrico: I consider myself a perma-traveller in life, and I like to host guests and make them feel at home. We always kept the pop-up very personalized and intimate, and this focus will continue into Itz'ana. I'm excited that I'll be spending a lot of time directly with guests, guiding them through rum tastings and wine tastings, and pairing both with some of our delicious local cheeses. The team designed Itz'ana to contain a lot of private spaces, so we will continue to host small, intimate events that pay homage to what we created with Limilita, and carry that spirit forward.
Moreover, I love outdoor activities. What could be better than waking up with sunrise yoga, swimming in the world's healthiest barrier reef and then getting refreshed in a waterfall in the jungle? And let's not forget a nice meal made with fresh local ingredients. I can't get enough of Belizean gastronomy.
Q: What fingerprint do you hope to leave on the DNA of Itz'ana and Limilia?
Enrico: These days, people's fast-paced lifestyles allow very little time for making lasting memories. My goal is for guests to be able to close their eyes and fully remember the taste of a pop-up dinner, the smokiness of a lobster cooked in the brick oven, the warmth and tropical notes of an Italian Gavi wine, the breeze from the ocean - they will remember the taste of Itz'ana.
With Enrico's passion guiding us, there is no doubt they will. Itz'ana will be taking bookings for our Grand Opening celebration later this summer. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when you can come down and be greeted by Enrico!