Visiting Valentino’s in Singapore have by and by become a meeting with the Valtulina family. It is pleasant beyond description to be welcomed by familiar faces and even better having your own guests treated as if you were just a big family having waited much too long to finally see each other again.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2014
Across the outdoor patio seating of Ristorante Da Valentino in Singapore is a small spice garden. The restaurant is the venture of the Valtulina family. A place I have over time come to regard as a little home away from home, and a place I am always happy to revisit as occasions occur.
Regarding the little garden. We had actually talked ourselves into this little gem mainly in the care of Gianpiero Valtulina, or Papa Gianni, by showing a genuine interest. And while excusing himself for “its many shortcomings”, he showed us around, showed us what were to be and complained – as all true farmers at heart – about the soil, the weather, the sun, the rain and the climate in general, with a smile.
Here he picks a lime leaf, crushes it between his fingers and lets into the air the fresh citrus aroma of lime. He lifts the crushed leaf towards me, “Smell”, he said. The citrus aroma immediately brought to my mind, a perfect home cooked Nonya fish curry. But I did not think that it was something he would use in his Italian dishes? Maybe. But the point was that it was fresh and it was real.
You could not help but notice his passion for gardening that comes from his heart. It was just beyond reproach that this was as it should be. When the family relocated their restaurant to this larger premises at 200 Turf Club Singapore, there was almost no compromise that he wanted a spice garden of his own, right here near the new establishment, else there is little point in hoping for the best results in dishes placed at the dining table. Today, he takes the opportunity to grow some herbal plant species from Europe and some varieties native to the tropics. He explained in patience and enthusiasm, the methods of cultivation, harvest and use.
Both, the passion and the close cultivation of plants, demonstrated to us the central idea that the physical immediacy of the human touch contributes to, and is perhaps of crucial importance to a good product.
With multitudes of clients having their own food and drink preferences, expert knowledge of the pairing of wines with certain dishes makes part of the human touch that comes with dining at Valentino’s.
The ‘human touch’ in the services industry.
The observation from Gianpiero Valtulina’s personal guided tour of his spice garden at Ristorante Da Valentino, sharing his love and knowledge of the topic, is a value add of the ‘human touch’ in the services industry. His individual gesture of what is human communication, and the revival of the cultivation of meaningful people relations in an era of hollow social media presence and relations [1,2,3], can be placed within the broader NSF’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report of the global labour shift towards the rising services industry [4,5].
Like the investment of steady perseverance, applied experience and knowledge related to the nurturing of herbal plants, the nurturing of social relations that contributes in large part to the purchase of a service, requires the physical immediacy of presence.
Within the food and service industry as experienced here, the types of services rendered goes well beyond the dining experience for customers, to encompass experiential educational elements. This type of product and service is not automatable [6,7].
If you are interested, the Valtulinas will share their knowledge with you of the different aspects of their business, from the process of the acquisition of raw ingredients, of how certain dishes are prepared both in Italy and in Singapore, to the pairing of wines to different dishes. This specialized knowledge adds value to their artisan service.
Apart from relationships developed in close geographic proximity, restaurants are also meeting places that facilitate the connecting of individuals through various activities outside of just dining over a meal. It is a concrete space that can be used to foster friendships and relationships in meaningful ways that the most interconnected of virtual spaces lack the capacity to provide.
As biological beings, the tangibility of voice, eye-contact and touch in handshakes when meeting in a group has been proven to increases trust between persons .
The services sector can be argued to be an upcoming frontier of businesses that for now, continue to lend the human touch to businesses, providing a silver lining to the third wave of industrialisation. It is the inventiveness and warmth of heart that robotics fail to capture that comes through.
Valentino Valtulina, Chef and restaurant owner.
Quality of life
In a wider perspective, the “growing of your own spice garden” addresses the issue of quality of life.
Automation gives more time for people to invest in what is meaningful to themselves. Widening the concept of wealth and incomes, wealth need not be measured only in monetary terms. Rather quality of life, privacy and time as luxury commodities can be accounted for.
This points towards a reconfiguration of the current economic model towards one that includes wealth generated by the efforts of a collaborative economy or towards activities done at home (parenting, keeping house, home gardening etc.), outside of the paid labour market model.
In the light of the displacement of labour in knowledge intensive services industry, “having your own spice garden” also points towards that the much talked about ‘sustainability’ takes on a different perspectival hue.
Sustainability is explained in a fundamental concept in the Darwinian system of evolution. It gives people reason and space for finding means in an increasingly mechanized world.
Current in many economies is a voracious appetite in material consumption, with wealth defined in the accumulation of money.
The greening of the earth that encompasses a return to the human touch in products and services, and to cultivating that personal spice garden might well become a key factor in the future, in the facilitation of a redistribution of wealth, and in the active redefining of it.
 Anderson, J. and Rainie, L. 2010. The future of social relations, Pew Research Internet Project, Internet resource at http://pewrsr.ch/106V7Ke
 Anderson, J. and Rainie, L. 2014. Digital Life in 2025, Pew Research Internet Project, Internet resource at http://pewrsr.ch/1fm2nl3
 Yang, E. 2014 in Steve Tappin’s CEO Guru, The mystery of China’s ‘guanxi’, BBC News, Business, 8 October 2014. Internet resource at BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29538125
 National Science Foundation (NSF) 2014. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Internet resource at NSF Statistics, http://1.usa.gov/1szWyKo
 Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014. The rise in women’s share of nonfarm employment during the 2007-2009 recession: a historical perspective, Monthly Labor Review. Internet resource at http://1.usa.gov/1nvnlZg.
 Smith, A. and Anderson, J. 2014. AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs, Pew Research Internet Project, Internet resource at http://pewrsr.ch/1oCzpWE
 Kenny, C. 2014. Why factory jobs are shrinking everywhere, Bloomberg Businessweek Global Economics, April 28. Internet resource at Bloomberg Businessweek, http://buswk.co/1t2b2Wi.
 Welberg, L. 2008. Trust in oxytocin, Nature Rreviews Neuroscience, 9(7):500.
 The Economist, Special Report: The Third Great Wave, 4 October 2014. Internet resource at The Economist, http://econ.st/1rAVNmo
 Wright, T. and McKay, S. 2008. Tightening immigration policies and labour market impacts, Transfer, 14(4):653-664.