Riccardo Uleri has made a new discovery. “I’ve just come back from Spain with a new find: red Balfegò tuna. Its meat is exquisite, it’s not hard to acquire, and it’s available 12 months out of the year.” Uleri has an unusual - and enviable - job: searching for and selecting the best ingredients for Italy’s starred restaurants. “A talent scout for flavors”, is how he describes his work.
For those who have never worked in the restaurant industry, it might not seem obvious - but picking out the best ingredients and finding new ones constantly is a key part of the job. It also goes hand in hand with choosing the best suppliers and overseeing the consistency of quality and quantity. Since chefs have a lot on their plates already, many times they turn to Uleri and his company, Longino&Cardenal, for help.
Who are Longino&Cardenal? “Two imaginary people,” says Uleri. “Longino is an aristocratic Swiss gentleman, and Cardenal is a Cuban fisherman. The name was chosen in the ‘90s by the brand’s founders. They were four entrepreneurial foodies who imported and distributed Iranian caviar from a basement in Liguria. Their aim in life was to hunt down the most refined foods on the planet. Which is exactly what I do today.”
This includes George Bruck foie gras, Kenmare salmon, Weiss chocolate and the 'Nobel' of butters - l’Echiré, along with hundreds of other delicacies including fresh products like meat, fish, aromatic herbs and edible flowers.
Every time I set off on a trip, it’s a new adventure, says Uleri. “Anchovies packed in Nardin extra-virgin olive oil, for example, have a real history. They are fished in the Cantabrian Sea between April and May. Nothing comes close in terms of size, meat, and flavor. A friend told me about them, and then I found out that behind these anchovies was an old Sicilian family who had been in the business of conserving fish for centuries.”
Uleri recalls years ago when he was looking for an excellent Spanish ham. “I tasted so many,” he said, “that I thought I should just give up. Then I ran across the Jamon Iberico de Bellota Guijuelo-Blàzquez and, I’m proud to say that I was the first to import it to Italy.”
What other products is he proud of? “There are a lot of them, but surely one is the Baccalà di Giraldo [Editor’s Note: Baccalà is salted cod]. It’s fished in the North Sea and is superior for its slow salting process that doesn’t break up the flesh’s fibers, and for the way it’s conserved. These are secrets of the Basque Countries, where the techniques are carried out.”
But why wouldn’t high-level restaurants insist on having ingredients that nobody else had? “The ingredients can be the same,” answers Uleri. “But great chefs have their own styles and talents, and that’s what makes the ingredients into works of art.”