The first chef in Europe to obtain a Michelin star for his vegetarian restaurant, tells how the prophet of Italian cuisine has changed and influenced today’s cuisine
Pietro Leeman is the first vegetarian cuisine chef to receive the Michelin star for his Milanese restaurant Joia, and has been influenced by Pellegrino Artusi and his work Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well since he was young, a real handbook for every chef (and not). Dishes that reflect regional traditions but always facing other cultures and the contemporary: that’s how Pietro Leemann sees the cuisine of today and tomorrow.
You won the prestigious Artusi Prize in 2005, how does it feel winning the “Nobel prize for Italian cuisine”?
“Receiving this award has been an honour especially as a vegetarian chef. This has been fundamental for my career. Pellegrino Artusi has always been a great reference for me. I was inspired by some of the greatest chefs like Auguste Escoffier, a great French master who aimed to a high level cuisine, and Artusi of course, the mentor of Italian cuisine, who was able to describe the Italian popular cuisine in his masterpiece”.
How does the Joia reflect the philosophy and cuisine of the great Artusi?
“He was tied to the Italian regional traditions that he has widely described in his book. In a certain sense, the Joia reflects Pellegrino’s vision because the Italian cuisine has many vegetarian dishes. Furthermore, I think it is essential to communicate with customers, who have changed in recent years. Today, customers appreciate different cultures and tastes, and they look beyond “.
Is the way of seeing and interpreting Pellegrino’s cuisine outdated or always current?
“Today there is a great return to tradition and regionality and this is a very important and positive aspect. Obviously, compared to the recipes proposed by the gourmet, today’s cuisine is much lighter: there are less fats, shorter cooking and the dishes have a definitely crunchier and fresher taste. It is anyway crucial to draw the attention to the tradition and the model of Artusi, because that is where we come from”.
How did this book revolutionize the world of cooking?
“Artusi’s book is a cuisine cornerstone: with his work, he has provided an insight into that historical moment that today helps us to understand the Italian society and culture of the time. I recently published my code of vegetarian cooking, which reflects a lot the trends of the moment. In fact, today’s cuisine is much greener and this is certainly the opposite of Artusi’s thought, in fact he considered vegetables as a side dish, while for me they are the protagonists. Therefore, this is a new code representing the future, while Pellegrino’s was the code of his time”.
What would Pellegrino Artusi think of today’s cuisine and chefs?
“Sometimes he would have been satisfied with modern cuisine, but on the other hand he would have been stunned by some over-studied and too artificial trends. His vision of cooking was marked by flavour and certainly was less sophisticated. For example, I always pay attention to the ingredient without manipulating it too much, otherwise its nature and flavour would change; for this reason, I am sure that from this point of view he would have agreed as well”.
This year we celebrate the bicentennial of his birth. Which dish would he like today?
“He would have certainly appreciated the new formats, sauces and cooking methods that today characterize the world of pasta, developed according to the region. Another dish would be the pizza, which Pellegrino has known little but would have loved. Finally, everything concerning bread and bread-making, a sphere which he didn’t mention much, but today has reached extraordinary levels”.