Chronicle from a foodie who marvels at each step during the Identità Golose Conference, the most important meeting of the year in Italy for all the food lovers
Can you imagine a better place for a foodie than one room after another filled with world-renowned chefs cooking in front of you?
That's why as I passed the gates of Identità Golose in Milan I felt excited and eager to plunge myself into the magic world of food. This landmark event - that gathers foodies from around the world together annually- this year has been a 3-day marathon where Michelin-starred chefs were invited to speak and to cook in front of the public, and awarded for different categories by a jury directed by Paolo Marchi, the mind behind of the event.
And I wasn't disappointed.
Entering a dark room packed with people, I see Carlo Cracco - Italian two-Michelin starred chef owner of Cracco restaurant, Milan - manoeuvring pans and ovens with Matteo Baronetto, his sous chef. They are preparing the "Milanese sbagliata", a contemporary version of the more traditional cotoletta - a typical Milanese dish that consists in a breaded veal cutlet - made of raw meat and a breaded slice on the side.
Literally on stage, surrounded by stoves, the two are moving frantically to explain to us, mere mortals, how to cook this dish properly.
While they speak, something clicks in my mind and I start to envision surrealistic scenarios: rivers of chocolate, trees made of bread, candy-chair and pizza-tables. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, no even better, in Foodland. Probably because today is my day: all my favourite chefs are going to be on stage. On the big screen I can see better all the movements, Carlo Cracco seems to dance while cooking red Santa Margherita shrimps on coal. He could definitely be the Cheshire Cat, with a crafty smile and the high self-esteem of someone who knows what he is doing. Like the Cheshire Cat, Cracco tricks you all the time: he uses - most of the time, although the seitan panino is another story - traditional ingredients and make it seem simple to cook them, but then he takes care of them and nurtures them so much as to change them completely into something unique. There are hues we mortals are not allowed to completely get, but we still understand their allure and we stare at them with big eyes trying to enjoy the moment. Or at least that's what I did.
Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco are next on stage: the columns of Enoteca Pinchiorri, the three-Michelin star historical restaurant in Florence, they reminded me a bit of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Same aspirations, same willingness to make it in the high-end cuisine world, they decided that the Restaurant didn't need one chef, but two. A great "team work", as Italo Bassi put it, that each day writes the history of Italian tradition (they are even planning to breed a special Emilia Romagna pig and their own vegetable garden). Enoteca Pinchiorri brought Italian food even to Japan, Tokyo, opening in 1992 Enoteca Pinchiorri.
Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco
It was then the turn of Enrico e Roberto Cerea, who really are brothers, from Da Vittorio restaurant, in Bergamo, three Michelin-starred restaurant. They were able to cook one of their specials, "paccheri alla Vittorio" for all the people in the room - we were hundreds. If this is not magic, I don't know what it is.
And then, there you go, another favourite of mine, who could totally be the White Rabbit, Massimo Bottura from Osteria Francescana, Modena, three-Michelin star restaurant. He was able to cook several of his specials right there thanks to the efficiency of the team making us taste the creations of one of the best restaurants in the world. While preparing, he was able to talk about his philosophy as a chef: "we need to bring the best of the past and take it to the future". And that's exactly what he did: his dishes are the very representation of our history, of the tradition of Italy, transfigured into flavours of today. While cooking, he said something I think should be learnt by heart: "The cuisine of tomorrow is not a cuisine of revolution, is a cuisine of evolution". We need to learn how to improve our past, and not to distort it. I got to taste his famous "vain" eel - eel with balsamic vinegar, polenta, apples and onions - that basically retraces the steps of Estensi, the sovereign of the Region of Emilia in Italy from 1056 to 1239. Yes, he had "so much to do and so little time", but he was able to really communicate to people, through his food, what's behind Italy, the richness of tradition we have, and how we can - we need to - make it even better. He brings his philosophy in his life, too: he knocked door to door in his Region, Emilia, and raised a 5 million euro fund for the requalification of the downriver areas in disuse of the river Po (a river area once flourishing). With a smile on his face, surprised himself of what passion can bring, he said to us “Have you seen what a cook can do?” (he used the word “cook”, and not chef, on purpose). I have to confess that more than once, while he was speaking, I was moved.
And then comes René Redzepi, from Noma in Copenhagen (two-Michelin star restaurant), the Mad Hatter - as I am sure he would happily call himself. With him on stage I felt really like Alice when eating one side of the mushroom or the other that would make her grow smaller/bigger: chef of the best restaurant in the whole world (officially), Redzepi is a young forest elf that daily searches for natural ingredients around him and his territory: pine leaves soaked in rain, ocean weeds, reindeer moss, berries are his best friends and with them he is able to create beautiful dishes that look like magic potions. I wonder if eating some of that would turn me into a butterfly, so colourful and light. It's just staggering the amount of research he has to do in order to get those results. "The thing is, you keep progressing even if you keep failing". A sort of good philosophy generally, I find.
Davide Scabin from Combal.0 in Rivoli, a two-Michelin star restaurant, is definitely Caterpillar. No drama, no fuss, he enters the scene affirming that chefs needs to get back to be human, to communicate to people and to inspire them with easy concepts. "Chefs don't need to be perfect", says, and I think he is right. We now have this superstar image of chefs that is not attached to reality when it comes to daily life within a restaurant's walls. I loved his Italian Street Food concept in which he basically created a pasta with burrata and tomato-pita, but he can be capable of pure poetry too, cooking different kinds of rice criomaceration, a special technique in cooking that creates all sorts of (colourful, if you will) compositions that will keep in the fridge for about three weeks.
At the end of the day I felt exhausted right like after a long trip: mine was in fact a trip through culture and passion that left me enriched and grown up, just like Alice when she woke up underneath a tree after all her adventures. My apologies if I recounted all this with too enthusiasm, but food, after all, is my favourite fairytale.
Fabio Pisani and Alessandro Negrini from Aimo e Nadia Restaurant
Written by: Elisa della Barba
Food and chef portraits: Brambilla/ Serrani
Reportage: Alessandro Castiglioni