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The young man you see sitting at the wheel of the bright red vintage Ferrari, towing a tangled mass of saucepans, is called Andrea Mainardi: a 28 year old professional chef, he has earned himself the nickname of “atomic blonde”, thanks to his explosive culinary art. Cars and cuisine are his two great loves: so much so that when the Mille Miglia event took place, Mainardi prepared a special menu to celebrate the departure of this historical race for vintage cars (exclusively reserved to those produced before 1957) which run a 1,600 km itinerary. About one thousand miles, in fact.
For it is actually in Brescia, the starting point of this race whose destination is Rome (and back) that Andrea Mainardi – who is considered by many to be one of the enfants prodiges, and probably the most volcanic of a generation of Italian chefs born in the 80’s - has chosen to open his restaurant. Following a lengthy period spent learning the art alongside his mentor Gualtiero Marchesi, and almost driven by an obsession, Mainardi opened this restaurant with one single table for seating a maximum number of ten clients. This apparently insane idea became a reality in 2007, when Officina Cucina was inaugurated in Brescia, and his dream came true. The early years were extremely tough but he did not give up and continued to believe in it. Now there is a two months’ waiting list to sit at that single table.
The Mille Miglia celebration opens with a very tender fleshy prawn wrapped in a sheath of “spaghettini” and plunged into oil at 160°C, for a crisply dry fried morsel. This is topped with a carrot ketchup. To follow, the Concentrated salmi of pheasant reveals Andrea’s passion for game: imagine a 10 day marinade in white wine that is reduced by one fifth each day. Finally, the flesh obtained after cooking is creamed with potatoes, carrots and onion, instead of butter as the traditional recipe calls for. The resulting dish is a sort of heavenly paté served with a tartare of pears and a crunchy cereal topping. His mastery of technical effects comes to the fore in Creamy scrambled eggs in which the eggs are beaten at length and steamed at around 50°C. A Salad of fennel, orange and scallops with milk demonstrates his wizardry: to make them sweet and soft, the chef has filled a syringe with milk and made little injections in the scallops. After being pan tossed in cocoa butter, they are served alongside fennel, orange, balsamic vinegar and dill.
Here there are no first or second courses, but one Australian belonging to a group of eight lucky clients would like one of his famous risotto dishes: Et voilà: Risotto creamed with taleggio cheese, passion fruit, honey and coffee. The mythical Acquerello rice and the acidulous hint of passion fruit stimulate the taste buds and cut through the plump fattiness of the cheese. A most elegant dish. The meal drew to a close with an Officina Cucina cream ice, which mysteriously contains 11 ingredients, comprising saffron, paprika, cinnamon, coriander, rum and lemon. In actual fact, it closely resembles the traditional ice-cream we used to eat when we were kids. Pity that it owes its creamy effect to liquid nitrogen used at -196°C.
Reservations are compulsory at Officina Cucina, which is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner (100 Euros, for 10 courses, excluding wine). The twenty-eight year old is already the partner of a group (Fanchijet) and will soon make his debut on the other side of the Atlantic: in June, a consultancy for the Bowerykitchen restaurant will take him to New York, and immediately after the summer, he will open a risotteria in co-ownership at Hartford in Connecticut. “Risotto prepared the Italian way, but lightened and adapted to the American palate. A result achieved by creaming the risotto in various different ways, without fats”, Andrea is anxious to point out. With regards to his kitchen, Andrea applies one strict rule only: when he is not physically present, the restaurant is closed.