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For Massimiliano Alajmo, the Italian chef at Le Calandre restaurant, ingredients are something to be taken very seriously. They make up the essence of gastronomic research, the fulcrum around which any tasting experience centres. “There’s no truth except for that which is contained in the ingredients, and it’s cuisine that brings them to light,” the 3 Michelin-starred chef likes to repeat. And today, he goes one step further: “The ingredients are always the answer. When faced with crisis and the loss of values, it’s the spiritual essence of the material that enables to engage consciously with ourselves.”
When Fine Dining Lovers met chef Alajmo at the Identità Golose 2012 conference, he shared his personal journey regarding ingredients, with three defining key words – lightness, depth, fluidity – which he embarked on the very first time approached a stove. “This is an endless journey,” the chef explained, “and like every search, the fascinating part is that there’s no real destination: we inspect our material in order to understand, to better know ourselves and the world.”
It’s a return to the essence that, today, establishes a common denominator among the world’s various cooking philosophies: from the revival of local sourcing encouraged by South American chefs like Gaston Acurio or Alex Atala, to the rise of Copenhagen as a gourmet capital thanks to chefs like René Redzepi, who topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the third consecutive year, the entire cooking world is paying greater attention to ingredients. “This is a historical moment, when we want to feel more alive and authentic. Time is speeding up, and we need to react to the loss of certain values by emphasizing the spiritual element of our primary ingredients.”
Born in 1974, since 2002 Massimiliano Alajmo has been the youngest chef in history to be awarded three Michelin stars at his family’s restaurant, Le Calandre, number 32 on the 2012 World's 50 Best Restaurants list, which he now runs with his brother Raffaele (both in the picture) who works as the maitre. In addition to the original restaurant, over the years the family has added the Calandrino bistrot, the countryside restaurant La Montecchia (all of which are near the city of Padua), and they also manage the legendary Caffè Quadri in piazza San Marco in Venice, which they re-opened in June 2011 with a new menu created by Massimiliano, who was inspired by the ingredients from the Venetian lagoon.
And the endless journey continues with last year’s opening of a “temporary restaurant” right below La Montecchia, which has become a new way to appreciate Alajmo’s cuisine. The AbcMontecchia serves– well, the ABCs of his nation’s cuisine (the name coming from a play on words Alla Base della Cucina , or “At the Base of Cooking”) – with Italian classics like pizza. “Our intention was to express Italian taste to the world,” says Alajmo. “We cover the basics on the ground floor and then move upwards with a more complete offering.”
We’re left with one question to ask this chef, whose global fame comes from the courage to push culinary boundaries: in what direction is Italian haute cuisine heading? Once again, his answer is surprising: “I don’t talk about the future, I live in the present with the wisdom of the past. The future is an imagined instant, but as soon as you evoke it, it already becomes part of the past.”