From Philippe Léveillé to the Cerea di Vittorio brothers, passing through Oreste Corradi, Umberto De Martino and Peter Brunel
Regional cuisine is one of the most important cultural heritages that Italy possesses. And the first courses are undoubtedly the most representative example. Forge of emotions, fascinating in every respect, branched out in countless ways, but with a single common denominator: people. Through this type of cuisine traditions are kept alive, making an atavistic bond tangible. And if the regional first courses have multiple nuances, probably as many as there are people who keep a family recipe, what happens when these recipes cross the doors of a starred cuisine? To answer this question, we interviewed six starred chefs from Northern Italy: Peter Brunel, 1 Michelin star at the Peter Brunel Gourmet Restaurant in Arco, Enrico and Roberto Cerea, 7 Michelin stars, Oreste Corradi, 1 Michelin star at the Locanda Vecchia Pavia “Al Mulino ”, Umberto De Martino, 1 Michelin star at the Florian Maison and Philippe Léveillé, 2 Michelin stars at the Miramonti L’altra in Concesio (BS). What emerged is that to make a traditional first course “starred” you work on two levels: first of all you have to start from a fresh material of great quality, which must then be worked with intelligence and passion. According to Philippe Léveillé: “It’s like looking for the best way to spoil the raw material as little as possible. If something or a recipe is consolidated it does not mean that it is also right “. Oreste Corradi confirms this. “It is necessary to find fresh and high quality raw materials. A material that needs very little processing, which, continuing along this line, is proposed with more adequate cooking in order to enhance the taste and the raw material itself “. This type of research, the Cerea brothers confirm: “It allows us to adapt to the availability of the moment and to the passing of the months, in order to propose a gastronomic journey that is always consistent with what the surrounding nature offers us”. Umberto De Martino summarizes the concept with simplicity: “I think that cooking poor ingredients is not difficult, as it is not difficult to place them in a high-level gastronomy. A spaghetti, pasta of the people, can be made with a variety of tomatoes or with ten different ones. It is a question of using popular materials with wisdom and foresight ”. Behind this spontaneity, however, there are years of study and work. Peter Brunel tells us: “When I think of a dish, I focus on an ingredient and study it in all aspects. When I master it, I create a dish that I try to interpret with the traditional ingredients present in my territory “. In fact, inside each dish we find three characterizing elements: culture, respect and love. In fact, proposing a traditional dish in your own way is not at all simple. Philippe Léveillé treads his hand on the importance of studying and mastering what is done in the kitchen. “Before revisiting a traditional dish, you need to know its history in detail and know how to make it perfectly again. After having mastered the original recipe, you can start playing and think about how to offer it in a modern way. If you don’t dominate the base it’s always a catastrophe ”. It is therefore a question of having great respect for the basics and raw materials of each type. In fact, if you think about it, it is much more difficult to surprise guests with a poor ingredient than with a renowned one. Getting appreciation with a foie gras is not that difficult, but arousing the diner’s amazement with a carrot, for example, is quite another thing. Philippe Léveillé wonderfully expresses this concept: “Each raw material has its nobility, it is food, it is life. The key is to find the correct way to treat a non-precious material that produces the so-called “wow” effect. There is no need to upset the raw material, it is just a matter of discovering new things. The genius of a chef lies in creating amazement with something known, codified, almost taken for granted. To this end, the technique must be at the service of the raw material, but if only the first is applied, it is not enough. You have to apply it to an authentic, passionate cuisine ”. Peter Brunel, is a shining example, just think of the famous potato spaghetti. Thanks to its link with the territory it is able to extrapolate the maximum essence from every material that passes through its hands. “In my DNA there is a strong bond with the Trentino area. The basic concept is to enhance the raw material, which I don’t like to define km 0, but rather territorial. Here there is a very particular microclimate, starting from Lake Garda to the peaks of Cima Tosa and Monte Corno. It could be defined as a Mediterranean mountain microclimate. This gives me the opportunity to approach different varieties of products that allow me to range in an infinite way. The path was then natural, I combined the great love for Peruvian cuisine with Nikkei culture, giving life to a particular cooking philosophy. Very personal, inspired by my vision, I would define it as mountain cuisine aimed at the international world, enhancing territoriality “. The speech becomes complicated when regional cuisine is proposed in a different region; Umberto De Martino is a master in this sense. To make an “elsewhere” cuisine more familiar, the chef is constantly looking for the right contamination. “I try to put some recognizable ingredients of the territory, for example, if I make a breading, I use corn flour to recall polenta, then replicating the original recipe. Greater appeal is created by inserting familiar ingredients to make it easier for the customer to recognize them. I want to create a contamination made through respect and knowledge of the territory in which I am living “. “Tradition is being lost, true Italian cuisine is among the first in the world. They are important dishes and I see that they no longer have the attention they deserve. It is right to lighten the kitchen, but not to modify it completely. Regional cuisines are a very important heritage, they have fed millions of people over the centuries. Subjected to a magnifying glass and lightened with more innovative cooking systems, amazing dishes can be prepared ”: this is how Oreste Corradi defines his link with regional cuisine. Regional dishes are intimately linked to memory; through them it is possible to relive cherished memories. For the Cerea brothers, regional cuisine is this: “For us it means above all memory and emotion. We are very attached to the dishes we have tasted throughout our life, from childhood to adulthood, which is why in our menus we always try to offer dishes that refer to the most authentic tradition of our territory, a pampering for the soul interpreted with contemporary taste and cutting-edge techniques. ” They too have managed to blend tradition with innovation: “More than regional cuisine we like to talk about cooking tout court: in 1966, when our parents opened the first Da Vittorio”. A further interesting observation emerges if one asks what their strong point is. Although everyone has their favorite dishes, what unites the chefs interviewed is the reason for the bond with these dishes: love for the kitchen and their land. Peter Brunel is very attached to potato spaghetti because they represent the tangibility of his professional career and his territory. A similar argument also applies to the Cerea brothers, with the Paccheri alla Vittorio, which allows them to enhance seemingly simple ingredients and have direct contact with the customer thanks to the creaming carried out directly at the table. Speaking of creaming, Oreste Corradi sees in his Risotto alla Vogherese, with pepper, lettuce and fresh thyme, a great dish of the moment.