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Two chefs and ten fingers: it could have been the same old story recounted again and again in 4-hand dinner events. However, in Vicenza, deep in the Italian provinces, something different has emerged which marks the end of an epoch. Young Michelin-starred chef Lorenzo Cogo has launched Infusion, an unprecedented format which upends the 4-hands ritual to serve a dinner that is an authentic novelty: unique recipes cooked for the first and only time. To stage the opening event of his project, he has invited Yasuhiro Fujio, winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 Competition.
The prodigy grows up
Born in 1985, Lorenzo Cogo is a young talent. He is still young but, more importantly, he was very young when he became the first prodigy of Italian cuisine to earn a Michelin star: one of the youngest ever in fact. As the son of restaurateurs, he practically grew up in the family trattoria and, when just a teenager, he roamed Australia, Japan and Singapore and acquired experience at Etxebarri in the Basque Country and in the kitchens of The Fat Duck and Noma – in their golden age. In 2012, at the tender age of 25, he opened his El Coq restaurant at Marano Vicentino, Italy and was awarded a Michelin star, with great resonance in the media.
In 2016, fully fledged by then, he launched his new venture in the historical Caffè Garibaldi of Piazza dei Signori, set right in the old town centre of Vicenza. Lorenzo still preserves his boyish looks but is now fully mature, professionally speaking.
His extensive travels have made him aware of one important truth: “Only by eliminating borders and frontiers can we become better chefs and better people”. It is Lorenzo’s intent to facilitate collaboration and dialogue between chefs from different countries to generate a constructive exchange of views on ingredients, techniques and cooking philosophies. Hence the birth of the Infusion project, a format based on 4-hands dinners featuring international chefs. With a difference though...
“There is nothing of mine, there is nothing of his” Lorenzo explains to the guests of the first Infusion dinner, in which he is flanked by Yasu - “for two days, we have wandered around markets, eaten Vicenza-style salted codfish, drunk good wine, visited the Teatro Olimpico, and studied”. Literally speaking, because Vicenza houses the International Library of La Vigna, the largest collection of cookery books in Italy. “We have spent time together but we have not had the time to think, to test or to prepare in advance the dishes you are going to eat, which is what usually happens in a restaurant. We have just cooked and everything you are going to eat is one-shot”.
This is exactly the concept of Infusion, the creation of an occasion for shared inspirational input, waiting for a feeling to spark between the two chefs and give way to an improvised menu. What comes next is a complete surprise to the diners (but, above all, also to the chefs themselves): “Yesterday, there was nothing in the kitchen and, in one day, we have managed to create nine courses” explains Yasu.
The evolution of the 4-hands dinner
4-hands dinner events nearly always follow the same pattern: one menu with alternate dishes prepared by the two chefs. Each chef presents his own signature dishes, carrying as much as he can in a suitcase from home and trying to offer at least a sample of his work.
It is not easy to work away from home but the 4-hands dinner concept offers a form of self-promotion and publicity, enabling chefs to work when their restaurant is closed… it also allows chefs to get around, meet new people and familiarize with new places and traditions. The beneficial spin-off of their trip makes itself felt in the months to follow, when techniques and ideas resurface in the new dishes presented on their menus when they return home. Unfortunately, this aspect is something the 4-hands dinner guests are unable to appreciate in full.
The jam session evening
The menu is a short circuit between Japan and Italy, techniques and ingredients. It kicks off with Chawanmushi, the Japanese cooked cream made from dashi but which, on this occasion, contains dried cod instead of kastuobushi, one of the iconic ingredients of Vicenza’s local cuisine. It is served as a starter with baby squid, spicy Calabrian ‘nduja and thyme flavoured oil.
Granny’s traditional soup with rice, one of Lorenzo’s childhood recollections, becomes a cream of kale and black truffle in which to plunge a yaki onigiri. For eating with a spoon.
Chawnmushi, zotoli, 'nduja, thyme | Cream of black cabbage and black truffle, yaki onigiri Marinated mackerel, black garlic, lovage
The griddled gyoza arrive filled with pigeon offal, better known as Torresano in Veneto dialect, according to the tradition of Vicenza. Kobe beef teams up with king trumpet mushrooms and Parmigiano, while the Japanese hot pot called sukiyaki is enriched with Italian vegetables. The side salad comes wrapped up in a rice paper roll, for eating with your hands and dipping into a kiwi sauce.
Kobe, cardoncelli, Parmigiano
5th quarter gyoza, beetroot | Bouquet of vegetables, kiwi, shiso | Oyster sukiyaki
Dessert takes the form of a hazelnut and bacon ice-cream served with Jerusalem artichoke and coffee.
White melon, Timut pepper, lemon, watercress Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and bacon, coffee
From the amuse bouche to the mignon pastries, everything is fruit of just one day’s work, ancient recipes gleaned from library books, flavours tasted on previous days and transformed into something else again. The only dish with a story of its own to tell, marinated mackerel, black garlic and lovage, is an idea freely inspired by the dish “Across the sea”, which led Yasuhiro to victory of S.Pellegrino Young Chef Competition 2018.
So, after the event, what remains? A friendship and a host of ideas, which will live on forever in the menu of El Coq and in Yasu’s new dishes.
All images by Lido Vannucchi