Swide's interview with Cesare Battisti, chef at Ratanà, finds out what this young chef has to say about Italian cuisine and much more…
Cesare Battisti is the owner, along with Danilo Ingannamorte, of three of the most interesting restaurants in Milan: Ratanà (Via Gaetano De Castillia, 28, Milan, tel.0039- 02 87128855), Erba Brusca and Dopolavoro Bicocca. An easy-going, non-fussy young man with honest eyes, he tells Swide about himself and the future of Italian cuisine.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where you are coming from, where you are now and where are you going in terms of your professional life?
I had a classic professional training at Scuola Alberghiera of Milano and then worked at Savini Restaurant (one of the most prestigious restaurants in Milan), at Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone, and then at 22 I went in the US to work on a cruise ship (Princess Cruise), and then when back to Italy I just felt I needed to experience, to understand our cuisine for real. So after managing for 8 years one of the landmark restaurants in Milan with Italian cuisine from Lombardy, Solferino (since 1920), I decided with Danilo Ingannamore to open the Ratana, that everyone defines as a "modern tavern".
How is your cuisine at "Ratanà"? How would you describe it?
Ratanà’s menu is very short, a few antipasti, a few primi, few secondi. We take recipes from the end of the XIX Century, beginning of the XX Century and we try to convert them to something that can be appreciated today. It’s not easy! Sometimes it takes two weeks for a dish to get to the menu, sometimes a dish never sees “the light of day”. I would define my cuisine as very simple. A dish needs to be really good by using 3 flavours, 3 ingredients at the most. I am not into elaborate stuff, I am into real ingredients. I have succeeded in making my clients eat fresh-water fish! Regarding sustainability, local ingredients for example, this fish doesn’t come from farming but from fishermen on Como Lake, Maggiore Lake…our trout comes from the Adamello Park, a reserve. I never, never buy through mass-distribution channels. I buy vegetables from farmers of Parco Agricolo Sud in Milan. In my cooking I don’t want to transform an OK tomato into a delicious tomato sauce like many chefs do today (through cooking techniques that are perfectly mastered). I want to start from an excellent tomato, like our mothers use to do in the market, looking at each tomato and picking the right one. It takes time and energy. And some chefs might not want to do that. But I do, that’s the way it should be.
How do you see the future of Italian cuisine?
Despite the crisis, the difficulties restaurants have in staying open in Italy, Ratanà is doing awfully well, because we bring quality to the table. Generally speaking, I am optimistic. But I have to say one thing: chefs are becoming today’s stars, and I am happy that we get to communicate with people about our job. But it needs to be clear that it is a tough one. Yes, you are basically a happiness-pusher, yes, you shelter tradition, yes, you are doing a great cultural job. That’s great and that’s what you should be recognised and appreciated for, not for having showman skills. Think about this: in the 50’s half of our population in Italy was dedicated to agriculture. Today we are 66 million people and only the 3% is involved in agriculture. We rely on other countries for ingredients in which we are abundant in (lemons, oranges) because we don’t invest in them. That is what we should be doing instead. Luckily, things are starting to change. There are many young people in Milan who are trying to take back abandoned farm houses and to start cultivating vegetables, fruit, in a sustainable way. It’s good because we have so much on the Italian territory and we need to start taking care of it again, to protect our products, from Italy.
What do you like about Italy?
Pretty much everything. Being Italian means being a fighter, a creative person, being proud of your roots. I hope I am not the only one who’s being optimistic, I am a dreamer. I dream of a time in which young people will be willing to consider the hypothesis of doing something universally good through a job such as the one of farmer, going back to the earth. To be conscious and responsible for it.
What do you always have in your fridge?
At first I’d say vegetables, because they are really challenging. You need to change your recipes every three weeks for the whole year if, like me, you want to use seasonal ingredients. But then, rationally, I’d say herbs. I love them and we have so many that we don’t commonly use (dandelion, nettles’ sprouts, camomile leaves)!
Can you give us a recipe of yours that is easy to replicate at home?
I’ll give you the one among the three we cooked today at hangar Bicocca (the interview was on the occasion of the Rubitt event at the Hangar Bicocca space in Milan organized by Identità Golose, an initiative to educate to a good and healthy aperitivo). We used brown rice (from a reserve park in Pavia), boiled for 50 minutes, season it with lemon, salt, a piece of creamed Gorgonzola (blue cheese) and herbs, better if from the country (picked in the countryside).
Interview by: Elisa della Barba