Is there such a thing as new Italian cuisine? None withstanding the fact that Italian cooking is so deeply rooted in the different regions that one could write a thesis on question “Is there an Italian Cuisine?”, I have been wondering a lot about the spirit of innovation in Italian kitchens.
Is there a spirit of innovation? Generally speaking I would negate this question. Italian cuisine as a whole has come to a standstill. We can debate if that is a good or a bad thing, but firstly it is a fact. They have the most lovely ingredients, are lucky to have a soil, a climate and a food knowledge that allows them to create amazing dishes. Dishes that are tasty, perfectly harmonious in themselves. Different to other cuisines, Italian dishes are based on a few perfect ingredients that blend together in a complete taste experience. And that is great. Do not get me wrong, I LOVE ITALIAN COOKING. But having been all over Europe, the Americas and the Asian world, sometimes I would like some rose pepper in my food. Or wasabi with my raw fish rather than olive oil. But that is a no go. That would mean leaving the traditional ingredient list and would be considered a crime.
That would then leave the chance of innovating within the ingredient list. But also that is not very well received. Take the classical Panzanella, for example. A typical Tuscan Bread salad for hot summer days, it consists of stale bread soaked in vinegar and water, chopped onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. Maybe olives. And basil. I once tried to convince my friends to put mint rather than basil, just for fun. For a different taste experience. I got the stares. Why on earth would I want to substitute basil? Why would I want to put mint? Given that everyone – and for centuries – has always been happy with basil, would that not mean that basil is the perfect ingredient? So why would I want to ruin the Panzanella by using mint? That is when I gave up.
So you can imagine my curiosity when I left San Miniato yesterday for a dinner at the restaurant “Trussardi Alla Scala” in Milan. Under the creative guidance of Chef Andrea Berton this fairly new restaurant (it opened in June 2006) it was just awarded one Michelin Star. Expectations where high for my first ever visit to a stared restaurant in Italy. How would Italian tradition and innovative cooking be blended?
Simple answer: perfectly. Berton takes the best ingredients, composes them to highlight their pureness to then finish the experience off with an unusual spice, an ingredient by the side, creating the most perfect bites. We enjoyed scallops with a fluffy and light peanut sauce and ginger dust for antipasto. Cannelloni with buffalo mozzarella, a pecorino salsa and white truffle from San Miniato in abundance. The entrée was the most tasty braised beef I have eaten in a very long time: juicy and tender and full of flavour. It was served with a potato gratin, composing a very traditional dish, but with a level of execution that was incredible. Especially when considering that he and his team managed to serve 70 guests the same amazing quality. At the same moment. Mastery in the kitchen to this level is always astonishing me. What a night! And to finish on a note on creativity: the pre-dessert was a rum-granita, with a chocolate mousse praline and a smoked salt brittle.
That reminds me of another topic I am curious to explore: the perfect bite. How much salt brittle would Andrea Berton have chosen with how much chocolate mousse and how much granita? We will most probably never know. You can call it the total democratization of high cuisine: give the guest the chance to give the final touches to the composition. But it would be interesting to know nevertheless…
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