Giuseppe Malaponti, the charismatic Wellington maitre d’ and restaurateur, has died from liver cancer. He was 53.
Malaponti had dedicated much of his life to making sure others were having a good time, from serving the likes of Elton John, Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury at Le Caprice in London, as maitre d’ during Il Casino’s heyday, front of house at Hummingbird, and his own restaurant, MariLuca Ristoro.
I didn’t even know he was ill.
MariLuca Ristoro is one of my favourite restaurants in Wellington and arguable one of the best Italian restaurants in New Zealand. Great food, great wine and charming service. Giuseppe was a major part of that.
Malaponti, who was from Riva Di Chieri near the northern Italian city of Turin, was seconded to run the front of house for John Coleman’s Hummingbird restaurant when it opened in 2000.
His reputation preceded him in terms of front of house, and he had it “in spades, making people comfortable and [offering] service with a smile, always”, Coleman said.
Malaponti, who went on to open his own traditional Italian restaurant, MariLuca Ristoro, spoke modestly about his maitre d’ strengths when interviewed a few months ago, but said welcoming was very important.
“That smile, that approach, already wins you half the game. What you need is the food to be good, the rest is all done, and then you build friendship and trust.”
Malaponti, who died on Wednesday night at the Mary Potter Hospice, is survived by partner Isabel and children Marina, 15, and Gianluca, 12.
Very sad for them. He was a real character.