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Chef Giuseppe Zen: "Why I let the Nature Grow Itself"

Chef Giuseppe Zen: "Why I let the Nature Grow Itself"

A chat with the chef who brought to Milan the Japanese Fukuoka method: an agricultural concept based on the idea that 'the best way to act is not to act'.

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At first it looks like an abandoned garden, but after a few seconds you realize there are zucchini blossoms hidden back of via Lorenteggio, on the outskirts Milano. It’s the veggie garden that lies next to Giuseppe Zen’s restaurant, chef and thinker who decided to bring the Fukuoka method to Milan: Fukuoka was a Japanese botanist and philosopher, founder of natural agriculture, a concept based on Mu (which means without) that can be summed in “the best the way to act is not to act”.

Giuseppe Zen uses the Fukuoka method and the “harvest” in his Milanese restaurant Mangiari di Strada, day after day, season after season. Here he tells us more.

How did you turn to Fukuoka?
Slowly, over a period of ten years. I’ve learned about “the” natural products while visiting farmers during my travels in Italy. The real change, however, came after reading Fukuoka’s The one-straw revolution. I now apply the Fukuoka method in cultivating our garden and our land in Noto, Sicily, where we have almond and olive trees, and in November we also get wheat. Learning more about this method, I’ve found that by using the traditional methods we are impoverishing our land. It’s a very simple and concrete concept: Fukuoka is not about theory, it’s about cultivating the land.

Anything in common with the biodynamic method?
No, nothing at all. Even it doesn’t involve using chemicals, it’s still hard and costly. Fukuoka is very different from organic: it’s about observing what happens in nature. Look at our hills, do you see someone irrigating, plowing, manure or use pesticides? No. The forest is still perfect, so is the undergrowth. Herbs, fruits and flowers, they live in perfect harmony, there is no need for humans.

Which intervention is allowed?
Sowing without planting the seeds, just throwing them on the land. You can also use straws to avoid bad herbs from growing, which will help the land in nurturing itself. Other than that, human intervention is really not an issue. We use healthy seeds that came from a natural selection. The universe produces plants without the need to plow.

What if the plant is diseased?
There are a million diseases and Mother Nature always finds its balance and harmony, nature doesn’t require pesticides. Actually, the natural balance suffers from our modern techniques, if we stopped, nature would have a chance to regain its health. If a plant or a species gets sick, it’s because it is not in harmony with the place and gets naturally removed.

Is watering allowed?
No, I am firm about leaving to nature, no irrigation. I have to confess though that I do give a few drops of water to my basil and lettuce when they start to soften, and I open the umbrella when it’s too sunny.

What’s happening in your garden right now?
It’s time for wild herbs. The Taraxacum has been around all Spring, followed by chicory and “sanapo“, and some borage that I use for green fillings in Tortelli mixed with Caprino cheese. We also make Taraxacum stew wrapped in an invisible pastry. We then make Ravioli in potato broth and rapier. Once the Wild asparagine is over, herbs will last until the Summer and we can combine them with the mountain herbs our friend Martin brings from Campo Tures. I have to run check on strawberries. You must read Fukuoka’s book, it’s a must, even if you don’t own a piece of land.

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