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Milly Callegari , an Italian chef from Voghera in northern Italy, has a rather hybrid of a career, dividing her time between the kitchen and a pharmacy counter. Since childhood she’s nurtured a passion for sauces and recipes, for chemical properties, miraculous plants and exotic spices. She looks at food as a substance to transform, part of a grand alchemy full of secret ingredients, tools and magic powders. She knows that cuisine’s closest cousin is chemistry, her favorite ingredients are essential oils, aloe and spices. FDL interviewed this eclectic chef, here are her answers.
How have you managed to combine your two passions into a job?
I’ve got boundless energy and numerous passions. I make jewelry (which I import to Japan) and am very interested in cooking and nutrition. My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a pharmacist. I managed to satisfy him, by combining this with my love for healthy eating and inventing a unique career: the personal pharmacist/chef. In the pharmacy, I’ve created a special corner with shelves dedicated to essential oils and spices. This is where I get my ideas for new recipes. I cook upon request, in homes or during food-related events – never for more than 20 people, because I like to see everyone I’m cooking for. I run show cooking events and classes for adults and kids in Italy and abroad.
You’ve recently participated in Blind Taste during Taste of Milano 2013, could you tell us what it entails?
Taste is an intense and unique experience. I’ve held dozens of labs in a few hours where I cooked and tried to entertain and surprise the diners, asking them to taste everything blindfolded. It was hard to concentrate at times with all the noise and crowds but I think it worked very well. I tried to emphasize the tactile and olfactory elements. It takes courage to eat without sight. In just two days, I blindfolded 600 people and there are many more who still want to experience this. I hold classes in different hotelier schools, private homes, and anywhere where people are interested in my “essential” cuisine.
You’ve become famous on the web for your original recipes, like the one for chlorophyll. Could you tell us more?
For this one, you can use all green-leafed vegetables and herb: basil, parsley and spinach. Blend everything until you get a smooth, green liquid. Boil this over a low flame for a few minutes until a kind of gelatin forms on the surface. Turn off the heat and then strain over cheesecloth. The resulting liquid can be used for a broth or you can dilute it and use it to flavor soups. But in the cheesecloth, you’ll find a compact substance: this is chlorophyll. You can use it to color and flavor homemade pasta, you can add it to mayonnaise, to gnocchi dough, to whatever you please.
For your recipes, it’s necessary to go to the pharmacy or apothecary for some of the ingredients. What are some of the most unusual ingredients in the recipes you’ve given us?
I’d like to help people learn to eat in a conscious way, to read labels and understand where ingredients come from, to create new pairings. My hamburgers, for example, feature a mix of herbs for tisanes, along with aloe vera juice, Melissa oil and pink Australian salt extracted from the Murray river. The peach color comes from the presence of algae present in the extraction tubs. The second recipe features Chamomile oil and a lot of spices like Yakima salt or Cubebe pepper. And the third recipe, for an omelette, includes freeze-dried chicken, just like the kind you’d feed to babies. Roberta Schira.