Aged 32, Mattia Agazzi has just won his first Michelin star atGucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Beverly Hills, part of the Francescana Group, which also opened in Tokyo recently. Originally from Bergamo in northern Italy, the chef made his debut straight from school, alongside Chicco Cerea at three-Michelin-starred Da Vittorio restaurant in Brusaporto, Italy. He then travelled and worked around the world for seven years - with stints at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenée in Paris and the vegetarian Yellow Restaurant, Sydney - where he was introduced to the world of fermentation and the creative spectrum offered by the vegetable universe.
Today we find him at the head of a young, multicultural and dynamic brigade, fresh from his first important recognition by the red guide, where his creative approach and enthusiasm for his work won them over.
Here is what Mattia Agazzi told Fine Dining Lovers.
Tell us how the Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Beverly Hills project and your collaboration came about?
I come from Bergamo and landed at Gucci Osteria after meeting Massimo Botturawhen I had an interview at Francescana and they initially told me about the Gucci Osteria project in Florence. I had my experience, first at Osteria Francescana, then as Karime Lopez's sous chef at the Gucci Osteria in Florence.
After obtaining a Michelin star in the capital of Tuscany, Massimo decided to move me to Beverly Hills for the new opening. The project we created here has always been linked to our Italian traditions, especially mine, which are from the region of Lombardy: we tried to bring them to Los Angeles as far as possible, but using local products; for example, we made the 'Risotto Camouflaged as Pizza', where we injected the ingredients and flavours of pizza into a risotto.
An Italian chef in Los Angeles: what's it like to work abroad? What are the similarities and differences with Italy?
I didn't find the difference so great, quite the contrary. From day one we have always had the support of Gucci and Francescana, which has been of great help. But I must say that I have never felt like a 'foreigner' here. I immediately went to the farmers market to make contact with local producers and focus on using local products. There are many ingredients that come from the surroundings: from the sea urchins of Santa Barbara to the seaweed of Monterey Bay, south of San Francisco.
In addition to that, we are inspired by the fact that we are a melting pot of different cultures, both as a city and as a brigade. The latter is made up of about six to seven people, including a Russian, a Korean, a Californian, a guy from San Salvador, an Argentine, as well as Tamara, our South Tyrolean pastry chef, and Vanessa, my Canadian sous chef. We have many influences around us from all over the world: from South America, but also from Asia. The brigade is precious, it is one of the greatest inspirations I have, it stimulates me a lot.
You have just won a Michelin star - what is the perception of Italian cuisine and of this important recognition in the US?
It's a much-felt recognition here too. Los Angeles is a place that relies heavily on food and catering: people know what a Michelin star is. But it is also up to us chefs to be able to be ambassadors of these important projects: the Michelin Guide is recognised worldwide, it is up to us to respect its value, and spread it, to make it known. It's not a reason to boast but to take Italian cuisine to another level, which is not just mere eating, but the creation of an experience that provides harmony between dining room service, cuisine and wines.
How is fine dining experienced in Los Angeles - do you think there are differences in approach by Italian and US customers?
I have felt at home since I arrived here, precisely for this reason: the fine-dining culture is very similar, it is based on a healthy lifestyle, on sport and on the Mediterranean diet (which was already well known here before our arrival). So the approach with customers was not 'traumatic', they immediately appreciated our style of gastronomy, indeed some are still surprised because they believe that a cuisine linked to a brand cannot be of this level (I don't know on what basis they have this bias). I found myself very connected with the local culture from the beginning, it is actually very similar to ours.
How has the restaurant world dealt with the pandemic in Los Angeles?
Opening and closing the restaurant three times in a year was the toughest challenge for all restaurateurs, but this helped us strengthen the team, because during the pandemic - despite the fact that the restaurants were closed - we started a collaboration with the Hollywood Food Coalition, which is a non-profit association that helps people, providing food and support to those who need it.
We served about 10,000 meals in two months, about 150-200 per day (first course, side dish, dessert). These are voluntary experiences that I have always done in the past, even at home. But it was very important to face it as a team: in addition to finding something that reflected the values of Food For Soul, it was a reason to strengthen the team and our spirit, our soul.
During the pandemic, we were lucky, because Gucci always supported us, but many restaurants in the United States have been in a lot of trouble: some have closed and some haven't depending on the provisions, so staff moved from one city to another, where restaurants were still open for business. The consequence is that even here, as in Italy, there is still a problem finding staff at the moment.
Which dishes are most representative of Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Beverly Hills in 2021?
We have been open less than 12 months, but surely the 'Risotto Camouflaged as Pizza' is one of the dishes that best represents me: we cook the risotto with tomato water, we finish everything with a cream of cherry tomatoes, stracciatella, basil cream, burnt caper powder reminiscent of pizza crust and semi-dry cherry tomatoes. The idea for the dish was born out of a game between me and Massimo: he hadn't told me about the Gucci project, and surprised me; he had told me that he was going to send me to Beverly Hills to open a pizzeria, so when he arrived I said “Massimo, I made pizza”. And here is a risotto that takes up my Lombardy tradition, disguised as a pizza.
The other iconic dish is trout, which we called 'Coming from the Hills'. I love rock climbing: this is a creation based entirely on my hobbies. Massimo gave the name to the dish, and it's one of the signatures that represents me best: I have been fishing since I was a child (in Bergamo there is the tradition of trout fishing), foraging (I combined everything with seasonal local mushrooms) and some Santa Barbara hazelnuts, to finish everything off with a fish juice, that is a sauce with very Asian flavours, prepared with ingredients ranging from kabosu (a Japanese citrus fruit) to Chinese rice vinegar. An excellent meeting between our traditions and the 'other' culture that exists here in Los Angeles.
Any future projects we should know about?
I'm working on the new menu, it will be available in a few days. I can tell you that we are thinking of a dish that is a tribute to the friendship between Marco Bizzarri and Massimo Bottura.
What advice would you give to a young chef who is thinking of going to work abroad?
My first experience abroad was in Bucharest, which is an unusual choice. But my advice is to go for it: you have inspiration during the trip, wherever you are. Travelling opens your mind: from learning a different language to dealing with the local community to being inspired by the new culture that surrounds you. You will carry this experience with you forever and you will learn to be among people you do not know and how to create teams: working abroad is a very important experience that is linked not only to cooking, but it is a real experience of life. Regardless of where you go, the important thing is to travel: it is a growth of the person, it is wonderful to discover new cultures. I think it's the most fascinating aspect of our work.
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