During the first weekend of March 2017, MiCo (Milano Congressi) hosted Identità Golose, one of the most important culinary events in Italy.
I went there not only as a student of Gastronomic Sciences from Pollenzo, but also as a young cook. This chance to meet and talk with famous chefs and representatives from some of the most important brands of the service industry has been a starting point of some reflections on the fine dining sector.
The main theme of this year’s event was “the strength of freedom through the journey,” and brought together some of the most famous and awarded chefs from around the world with the shared aim of breaking down the barriers that prevent the free exchange of ideas between different cultures.
In this context I had the opportunity to interview Christian Puglisi, one of the most influential chefs in Copenhagen.
At a young age, Christian travelled around Europe looking for work in the best fine dining restaurants, among which were Le Taillevent in Paris and El Bulli in Girona, to end up at Noma, Copenhagen, where he worked as the sous chef to Renè Redzepi until he decided to launch his own project, Relæ, a singular and totally new concept restaurant. In 2016, the Michelin-starred restaurant earned a place in San Pellegrino’s prestigious “50 Best Restaurants” list, taking home the award for Most Sustainable Restaurant. This past winter, I had the great opportunity to do a month-long internship there. .
Besides Relæ, Puglisi currently has four restaurants in the capital of Nordic Cuisine: Bæst, Mirabelle, Manfreds and Rudo. They are run by extremely capable and energetic chefs, who all work to give you a fantastic dining experience.
Together they create the perfect network of restaurants to secure Puglisi as a milestone in the Copenhagen gastronomic landscape, where people from all over the world want to internship and learn. Working, or even just dining, at Relæ makes you feel the energy and the true passion of the people behind it, and offers the possibility to open your mind to real Gastronomy beyond aristocratic and haute-cuisine restaurants.
The saying is “ No muss, no fuss;” this means that you will not find very elegant waiters to pour your wine, or dishes with thirty different ingredients served in a overly-priced menu, but rather a team of great chefs that will cook, serve, and explain each course to you during the meal, using the best raw materials and producing dishes that show them in their perfection.
He has created a collaborative network of restaurants that use only fresh ingredients and products made in-house to offer five different types of meals, so that even “the scraps” can become something beautiful and unforgettable.
My internship at Relæ really changed my perspective on food and restaurants; seeing their skill in curing meat was stunning, and although it may seem easy to produce a quality cheese, one must understand the importance of the milk quality and freshness and of treating it appropriately.
Puglisi defines his restaurant concept as casual dining, but with an absolutely amazing format that gives birth to something new: differently shaped restaurants located all around Copenhagen with hundreds of employees, a farm with cows and fresh vegetables, a self-sustained bakery and a cheese production, each with a strong Nordic influence.
These are some of the reasons that I decided to interview him and ask him some questions about his philosophy, particularly what he thinks it means to be sustainable and what he thinks about the Italian fine dining scene.
What is the definition of “Sustainable” for a restaurant, in the meaning of recruitment of raw materials and production? Which are the Pros and Cons of such an ethic choice?
“For me the definition sustainable for a restaurant is a bit wrong, in the meaning that there is not a solution for every restaurant to make them sustainable, because it’s a matter of environment and finding your own way to understand how to be as sustainable as possible in your ecosystem.
The aim is not to be totally self-sufficient, but to go where the work of conventional agricultural practices of a farmer cannot. I will never be able to do a better cheese than a cheese-maker does. On the other hand a cheese-maker will always say that it’s impossible to produce it in a restaurant, but that is something that I actually managed to do. The idea is not to make a better product, but to do it with the eyes of a chef, in this way you can see things that usually conventional farmers do not, and so on… With this attitude you can create new and different things and hopefully better ones, for you and for the environment.
I think that there are only Pros making such an ethic choice. Maybe I can have less diversity in protein offer, but on the other hand I think that nowadays it could be a Pro to eat and offer more vegetable protein than meat. Because, as a chef, I know how meat is produced and feed, and actually I prefer not to eat too much, because it’s bad not only for me to exaggerate but also for the environment.
There is a lot of story-telling in the restaurants in general, and not that many facts; we try to work on facts.
There is no need of marketing, our purpose is not to give a good example, but to feel responsible for everything we do, as everybody should do if they want to be sustainable. Starting from little things, like throwing cigarettes paper.”
The Journeys and study-trips, a way to reach freedom and a learning tool. In your opinion which are the places to go and learn from for a young chef?
“Sincerely I don’t know. When I started, I was looking for fine dining a lot. For me the important thing to do, for a young chef, is to travel a lot, to understand yourself. Understanding other people’s culture you reflect on yours, and in this way you recognise which are your weaknesses and strengths.”
Looking at all the Italian guys working as chefs in Copenhagen and all over the world, that do not believe in the possibility of becoming a great chef in Italy, what would you say to them? Which are the weaknesses and strengths of Italian Fine Dining?
“The weakness of Italian quality and fine dining restaurants, is the fine dining concept. Why should progressive, modern and creative kitchen remain closed in the fine dining experience kind of restaurant, or the super expensive restaurant? You talk a lot about crisis in Italy… but where is the problem to open a restaurant that is not that expensive?! Does this mean that you cannot make a high quality and interesting kitchen?! No!
The important thing is to make it simple! For me the creative gastronomic job goes everyday more in the direction of simplicity. Because it amplifies the catchment area of people that can contribute, becoming even more democratic.
A restaurant that is too expensive is a very elitist platform and prevents growing of diversity”.
by Leonardo Rocca
All interviews conducted the 05th of march .2017 by Philipp Oggiano and Leonardo Rocca, students of UNISG.