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A quaint Sardinian village of just 2,000 people is the first place Roberto Flore called home. Just a few months a ago, the young Sardinian chef traded his beloved Mediterranean island to become the head chef of the Nordic Food Lab for the next three months, a research laboratory created by René Redzepi in Copenhagen. Flore grew up foraging and gathering herbs, mushrooms and wild plants. It was this childhood hobby that paved the way for this new stage of his life. Not to mention, it's the subject of a chapter the chef wrote for the FAO's Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Food, Beverage and Gastronomy. So just how did Flore to go from Sardinia to Copenhagen? Fine Dining Lovers sat down with him to find out more.
Let's start from the beginning. What did you do before the Nordic Food Lab?
My first memory stretches back to when I was 4-years-old: I was in the arms of my grandmother while kneading the bread, preparing ravioli and baking sweets. My community still carries forward these ancient crafts: the rearing of pigs and cows in the wild or harvesting olives. I grew up surrounded by biodiversity and studied agronomy. I have worked and traveled so much, working with chefs from all over the world, but finally - anyone who is Sardinian knows, you can not resist the lure of the Island - I went back home.
What is the "gastronomic situation" in Sardinia, in your opinion?
They are doing so much to improve it. Some chefs have come together as a team to promote our island. The chefs must support the producers, the real ones, not only by promoting certain ingredients but by exposing the cause.
How did you get to the Nordic Food Lab?
I started dreaming of Denmark after reading the book by René. He spoke of the discovery of an area with outstanding products, often exported or undervalued - not because they weren't good, but because they tasted unusual and were difficult to handle. People did not see the potential. It was exciting to read the results of René in terms of local development. Last September, I met two of my current colleagues that had arrived from Copenhagen. They were shooting a documentary on the world of edible insects, and I had the task of introducing them to the world of Casu Marzu (a type of rotten cheese containing larvae from the Cheese Fly). It was love at first sight and opened the possibility of an internship at the Nordic Food Lab, in February I began my new adventure. I will also intern at Noma for a month in September.
What is your day job?
The current team consists of nine people, from a wide variety of specializations, including alumni of prestigious universities like Yale, Sorbonne and the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Slow Food. We're not one cuisine in the classic sense, and we do not serve food: ours is an alchemy lab created to investigate the gastronomic potential of Scandinavian countries. We work with curing, fermentation, molds, yeasts and even insects...we develop, we catalog and then analyze and share with the public what we believe is valid and innovative, or things we are simply curious about learning. You can follow us on the blog. Our daily work is varied: in this period, there are those who take the bike and dart through the woods to gather herbs, others who get to know the producers, those who study and those who cook.
Sardinian cuisine vs. Danish cuisine.
I'm against forming a judgment of quality based on the Nationality of a dish, I prefer to look at the interpretive skills and the messages communicated by the chefs. In the new Nordic cuisine, dishes are characterized by great contrasts and enveloping flavors that we are not accustomed to in the Mediterranean. I love my country and I love to promote the fruits in the world, but I believe that patriotism is a limit.
What is it that has allowed the Nordic regions to get where they are now? Do you think Italy be able to do the same?
We have great talents and a different established reality in Italy. We should not chase after anyone, but to continue our path without competitiveness. I hope that in the future we will be able to protect and enhance our biodiversity and our flavors.
What Italian flavours do you miss while you're abroad and which flavour were you happy to discover?
If I open the fridge at home I find myself in front of herring, Danish asparagus and fabulous rhubarb, but there's a side of Fiore Sardo Ollolai pecorino cheese, cured sheep meat, goat curd and olives from Seneghe. I can not complain!