Gastronomer Lifestyle_Welcome to the Home of Clara and Christian Martena

Welcome to the Home of Clara and Christian Martena

Written by Mika Apichatsakol

July issue ‘Italian’, 2023 

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Clara Del Corso Martena is the gracious maître d’ at a contemporary Italian fine dining restaurant in Bangkok, which she owns with her husband, Chef Christian Martena. French with a bit of Italian blood in her from her father’s side, Clara moved to Bangkok from France at the age of 13, following her parents, who were also in the hospitality business. Having grown up around their passion for taking care of people, she decided to pursue a career in F&B, finding her niche in the operational side of the industry. 

In 2011, work brought her and Christian together. They married a year later and then in 2013 opened their first joint culinary venture, Italian restaurant Sensi. Afterwards, the couple did a stint at The Strand Hotel in Yangon before returning to Thailand to give restaurateuring another go. At the start of 2020, after much buzz generated by the pair’s dining pop-ups, they finally opened Clara, a stunning establishment in Yenakart that pays homage to several things, including Italy’s rich culinary culture, genuine hospitality, and love.

Gastronomer Lifestyle_Clara_Christian Martena

Q: Can you tell me about your role as Clara?

A: My role at Clara is divided into two sectors. While my husband Christian looks after the cuisine side, I am in charge of marketing, accounting, HR, and all that side of the business. However, my favourite role at the restaurant is being in charge of the front of house, where I collaborate with Christian and our team to create a special guest experience that represents who we are.

Q: Tell me about Clara’s concept and how it stands out from other Italian restaurants in Bangkok?

A: At Clara, we put forth contemporary Italian fine-dining cuisine. Christian blends his native cuisine with creative and modern techniques, using high- quality local products alongside carefully selected and premium imported ingredients. We offer two types of tasting menus. One is our signature nine-course menu, and the other is a seasonal menu that changes every three months, telling a story of travelling through five or seven different regions in Italy. 

I would say that what sets us apart is Christian’s modern take on Italian cuisine. We also give a lot of importance to the atmosphere and making our guests feel relaxed and cosy despite it being fine dining. I think the fact that we are husband and wife, we really want our guests to feel like they are visiting us in our home.

Q: An elephant in the room perhaps, but can you tell me about the naming of your restaurant? Is there a romantic story there?

A: When Christian and I were searching for a name for our restaurant, we couldn’t agree on any— probably because I had just given birth to our second daughter and was emotionally up there. Then one day, Christian brought me to L’atelier de Joel Robuchon for a beautiful dinner. At the end of the evening, the amazing maitre d’ Gianvito Zizzi brought out a beautiful box to the table. No, it wasn’t a ring but a box of five chocolates, which Christian asked me to eat one by one while he explained the reason for this surprise. Underneath was a business card with my name, “CLARA”, written on it. He explained that he decided to dedicate the restaurant to me. How could I refuse such a sentimental decision? 

Q: What does the work dynamic between you and Christian look like?

A: Christian and I are very complementary; we need each other to create a full and complete dining experience. It’s a bit like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together. Having the same goals pushes us to always go beyond and improve in the same direction. We try to keep our personal and professional life separate, but to be honest, our shared passion for what we do is always with us, and it has made for a rather positive force in our couple’s life for the past decade.

Gastronomer Lifestyle_CLARA Restaurant

Q: How would you define “Italian Hospitality”? Is it the kind of hospitality a customer would experience at Clara?

A: Italian hospitality is about generosity and being very welcoming. When you visit Italy, you can really see that this stereotype is actually a reality.

At Clara, we want guests to feel welcomed as soon as they enter the restaurant door. We try to pay great attention to who our guests are—whether they are returning or regulars, what their preferences and food restrictions are, whether they are dining for a special occasion or something else. The knowledge of these elements makes a big difference in terms of the service we can give to our customers. Guest will always enjoy being recognised, and it’s a kind of respect that we should show to any customer.

Regarding food restrictions, everyone is welcome: vegetarian, vegan, dairy- intolerant, etc. Even though it can be a challenge for chefs, we never say no to our guests and always try to be as flexible as possible.

Q: Do you think hospitality is something which comes more organically for an individual or is something which can be taught?

A: I believe that hospitality should be linked with passion. That’s what I always explain during staff interviews and when someone joins the team. Everyone needs to make a living, but when hospitality work is done with passion, it just changes how you do it and the guests will feel it as well. If a person loves the work, hospitality can be there even when the knowledge isn’t there yet.

The style of hospitality also differs from culture to culture, which I find interesting. I try to blend our vision of hospitality with Thai manners, as I have been in Bangkok for 19 years and respect the culture and traditions of the country I am living in.

Q: How important is hospitality to the dining experience?

A: In my opinion, hospitality completes the dining experience. Serving beautiful and tasty food is a big part of the experience, but it should be completed by the welcome, the service, and the attention to detail. Creating a memorable experience is the combination of the quality of the cuisine and beverage that is served and the hospitality that is given to a guest. 

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