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The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Riccardo Camanini opened Lido84 on Italy’s Lake Garda alongside his brother Giancarlo in 2014. “We just wanted to open a nice little restaurant for the town,” he said, “I never expected the attention we receive today.”
In just five years, that ‘nice little restaurant’ on the lake has become one of the country’s most exciting gastronomic experiences. Within six months of opening they gained their first Michelin star and, more recently, they were listed as The One to Watch on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
If, as the great gastronome Brillat-Savarin said, the true mark of a chef is in the creation of a new dish, Camanini could retire right now. The chef has been called many things: scholar, shy, sophisticated, refined - but he’s a creator. Someone who is very careful to define the gastronomical inspiration peppered throughout his menus but a chef who has, since opening, been consistently creating original, provocative and delicious dishes.
Take, for example, a new dish using heavily burned almonds and carob syrup: a sticky, sweet, jet-black sauce that’s lathered on spring onion: three ingredients, just three, placed together in a way that’s unfamiliar but deliciously comforting. “I have this necessity to go deeper in finding new harmonies… I am proud to feel this… I started three years ago to burn almonds, I was interested in the coffee smell but I wasn’t able to manage that flavor in any of my plates. I went to visit another Italian chef, Diego Rossi, who gave me a present of carob syrup and I was impressed by the flavor because even if it’s from Sicily I have never tasted it, it’s incredible how rich it is but still sweet.”
Sea urchin, pasta and black cardamon / Spring onion, burned almonds and carob syrup.
These simple combinations, what the chef calls ‘harmonies’ are seen across his repertoire. Another good example is his now famous dish of spaghetti burro e lievito: spaghetti served in creamy butter with dried yeast pieces sprinkled on top. The pasta is intentionally overdone for chewier bites, each strand drenched in the the thick melted burro. The intense, beery yeast pops with deep umami thanks to the natural glutamates contained in the yeast. This creates a meaty flavor which is amplified by the fat in the butter. Again, just three ingredients, the true definition of simplicity.
Pasta, butter and yeast - the plate was picked as part of a menu served at the MOMA in San Francisco.
Grilled and Smoked eel, balck marinated daikon, cren.
The urge to study, reinvent, create and innovate is something the chef has always harbored and his career progression has been the classic journey of burns, blisters and bruises. He started cooking at 14, “I hated it”, then worked for one of Italy’s masters, Gualtiero Marchesi, at the age of 18 where he said he had his first academic kitchen education: “It was the origin of my passion.” Then, at the age of 22, he moved to Paris to work for Alain Ducasse: “This was my second important lesson: I discovered flavor and the sauces.”
Camanini’s inspiration for his original ‘harmonies’ often comes away from the kitchen. “I’m very influenced by film directors. There are not so many that were able to change their style completely in their career - that fills me with a lot of inspiration. Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard. When I try to discover new attitudes to creating flavors, I find new solutions to taste products.”
The classic Cacio Pepe cooked inside a pig's bladder - Italy and France combine.
His latest line of discovery is working on techniques to reduce dairy and fat in his cooking. This is shown in his watercress risotto which, despite being creamy and rich, contains none of the usual butter or cheese. “I use mayonnaise to finish the rice, it’s protein but from the eggs.” The rice is finished with the yolk of the egg. He is also working on more vegetable-heavy menus: “People want to eat healthy… it’s much better to have a journey with the sensation of feeling better rather than the feeling of being too full.”
Away from the plate, Lido84 - packed with art-deco design, colorful walls and curious pieces of art - is a restaurant that runs smooth. There’s no dedicated work stations in the kitchen, instead, every chef works a six-month rotation, mastering every aspect of the workflow. There’s a solid, millennial-esque democracy to the operations: “We include them in all aspects of the restaurant, every time we make a new decision they are very involved. We want their point of view, it’s very important to go through new decisions with them, try to understand them together. Saturday mornings we spend one hour together to read something or even just discuss some new ideas. We invest a lot into the comfort of their work. Even when we opened we would close two-days a week, this is not so common, this is a real sensation to stop working for two-days, even then, it’s not enough.”
As the world starts to take note to what the brothers have created in their secluded home on the lake, the attention is something the chef finds surprising, “it’s maybe even a little too much for what I am,” he said after receiving the One to Watch award. Asked whether he thinks he’s done enough to warrant the Savarin stamp of creative approval, “it depends what is still around after a few years. If I look at the last 30-years I know who the masters where, the ones that changed in someway gastronomy, but that is a personal point of view.”
Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini.