One of the foremost proponents of progressive Italian cuisine, Carlo Cracco is regarded as something of a pioneer. He has won fame in Italy and beyond for his innovative treatment of traditional recipes, and his stylish, often playful food has earned him recognition among the world’s greatest chefs. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, since Cracco witnessed the birth of modern Italian cuisine first-hand in the kitchen of his great mentor, Gualtiero Marchesi. Either way, his respect for the Milanese tradition, combined with his sharp sense of modernity, ensures the future of Italian cuisine is in very capable hands. Cracco's cooking is a technical, essential, meticulous, delicate and original kitchen.
The Vicenza-born chef attended hotel management school before his baptism of fire with Gualtiero Marchesi in Milan. It was here that he learned the basics of Italian nouvelle cuisine in a kitchen that would be the first outside France to win three Michelin stars. He went on to work with Alain Ducasse at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, and Alain Senderins at the Lucas Carlton in Paris, and was able to bring the knowledge and discipline he acquired back to Italy in 1991. He took the helm at L’Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, which won two Michelin stars under his guidance. Almost inevitably, Marchesi soon came calling after his protégé, and Cracco agreed to team up once again with his mentor at L’Albereta in Erbusco. But it wasn’t long before Cracco’s spirit of adventure got the better of him and he decided to go solo.
He opened Le Clivie in Piedmont, which earned one Michelin star, but the allure of his old stomping ground of Milan proved too strong to resist. He agreed a deal with the owners of the ‘temple of Italian gastronomy’ Peck to open a restaurant called Peck-Cracco, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Soon the restaurant became known simply as ‘Cracco’, and it became his culinary home for 17 years before relocating to new premises at the famous Galleria Vittorio in Milan. From 2007 to 2010 it was among the 50 best restaurants in the world (San Pellegrino-The World’s 50 Best Restaurants).
The new restaurant at this iconic glass-domed shopping arcade is a five-storey complex with three separate kitchens. But there is also a wine cellar, a bar, a bistro, pastry shop, chocolatier and events hall. The interior painstakingly recreates the original features of the 19th century Galleria, one of Europe’s oldest active shopping malls. But rather like Cracco’s progressive take on Italian cuisine, it exudes modernity. In typical Cracco style, guests can choose between the more classic Milanese dishes, or something with a twist.
Those willing to try Cracco’s more inventive creations are in for a treat. Signature dishes like the Milanese veal cutlet ‘Done Wrong’ have their roots in tradition, but their execution is nothing short of ground breaking. Fed up with poorly cooked versions of the dish throughout Milan, Cracco deconstructed it and got it wrong on purpose, placing a slice of pounded raw Piedmont veal on a rectangle of breadcrumbs, with slivers of lemon peel on the side. His caramelised Russian Salad is another dish that confounds expectations. The crisp nugget of peas, carrot and beans can be picked up with two fingers, and reveals a creamy mayonnaise centre within its caramelised sugar shell. Cracco’s technical prowess allows for the creation of traditional dishes, as seen with his marinated egg yolks in salt and sugar, which can be rolled out into pasta without any flour or water, or even grated onto a risotto.
Cracco’s food made him famous, but his appearances on Italian TV have made him a star. On shows such as MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen he has sealed his place in the Italian national consciousness. He has also written a series of cookbooks, including Cracco: Sapori in Movimento (Cracco: Flavours in Motion), and A Qualcuno Piace Cracco (Some Like Cracco), which delves into the archives of Italian regional cooking. In 2018, Carlo Cracco loses a Michelin star and remains with one "only", so to speak, but despite his work in media and publishing he remains dedicated to perfecting his craft, in his restaurant, and to pushing the boundaries of Italian cuisine.