Transforming a traditional Milanese trattoria – serving up cutlets and pasta e fagioli – into a new bastion of Italian culinary experimentation, takes more than talent. It requires a lot of ambition, a touch of madness, and the willingness to take risks. “There are maybe twenty chefs in all of Italy that dare to change things. It’s time for us younger ones to start being more daring.”
Matias Perdomo is ready for just that. Born in Urugay in 1980, he came to Italy eleven years ago and has been the chef at Al Pont De Ferr for the last five. It’s rustic setting on the Naviglio canals has managed to remain authentic and singular over the years. But don’t let the apparent simplicity fool you: this past winter, Perdomo earned his first Michelin star. “An honor of that level bestowed upon a restaurant where you eat with paper napkins and from straw chairs? I can just imagine the dismay of some of the purists,” said the chef, obviously pleased. With those “obstacles” in mind, it’s clear his menu had to be revolutionary: he banished the stewed donkey and salumi for dishes like caramelized Tropea onions stuffed with goat cheese and blown like Murano glass, “framed” calamari in honor of Juan Mirò and chocolate “cigars” served with real smoke. These are tiny masterpieces, both looks-wise and taste-wise, and he’s clearly learned many techniques from his extensive travels. In Spain, the Roca brothers continue to be a constant source of inspiration. “It’s easier abroad, where there aren’t such deep-rooted rules and where culinary traditional doesn’t change so drastically from one kilometer to another, like in Italy. And in Spain, the lessons imparted by the genius Ferran Adrià are still vivid, he opened the minds of an entire generation of chefs. But my origins allow me to look at the Italian tradition with the right amount of detachment and propose a cuisine without borders.”
Revolutionizing a restaurant that had been running for twenty years – Al Pont De Ferr opened in December of 1986, and was famous for serving the kind of comforting food that Milanese grandmothers used to make – wasn’t easy. Not even for someone as self-aware as Perdono claims to be. “We took a risk in a place that seemed impossible to imagine beyond the traditional way of cooking. At the beginning, people left, saying they’d come there for tripe and cheese, not my creations. But I don’t mind disturbing people. I want them to think beyond satisfying their hunger and to really look at what they have on their plates.”
Many critics call this kind of culinary and cultural adjustment, “Trattonomy”: a play on words from the French-coined termed, “Bistonomy”, the mix of bistrot and gastronomy. But Perdomo isn’t a fan of definitions in general. “There are just two moments when people are sincere: when they eat, and when they sleep. This is the only time when we are truly free to feel something without external conditions. That’s what fine dining should be – a dish that makes you feel something. It’s not just about paying 200 euros for a tasting menu of 14 dishes.”
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