Roots, lichen, wild herbs rare to the plate. The chefs leave the stoves for a moment and head for the woods. Their cuisine embraces an anti-waste philosophy and rediscovers unusual ingredients.
Out of his uniform, Chef Gianni Tarabini, Michelin green star of La Preséf at La Fiorida, Mantello (Sondrio), pulls on his boots and devotes himself to picking small fruits and aromatic herbs. This is the microcosm in which his short supply chain is put to the test. “A quality ingredient must be born while preserving the natural resources from which it comes to life. They are a precious heritage, produced by the loving care of the earth, and animal welfare, alongside the times and rhythms of the seasons”. What ends up on the menu is totally related to the surrounding environment. His project goes far beyond the restaurant: it’s a farm where an ancient culture is handed down. Basket in hand, here he comes in the morning to the kitchen with blueberries and cabbage, wild herbs and flowers. Herdsmen on the pastures of the lower Valtellina, or the fishermen at the northern waters of Lake Como are not just suppliers: “They are fellow adventurers”.
Climbing to altitude now, close to the slopes of Madesimo (Sondrio), where mountain Chef Stefano Masanti of Il Cantinone (Les Collectionneurs), loaned to the Napa Valley in California for eight months of the year knows every fruit of his territory. A passion, his collection of barks, buds and roots born in childhood in Valtellina, Valchiavenna, Campodolcino and the surrounding pastures. “I like to introduce flavours never tasted before, like that of common yarrow or moscata. And then campion, nettle, broadleaf plantain, wild spinach, sorrel, matricaria, dandelion”. Buds and green pine cones of mountain pine “give that balsamic touch” to special dishes such as fir gnocchi. The kitchen pantries are a compendium of botany: rhododendron, arctic lichen, gentian, blackthorn, bilberries, rowan, acacia flowers, edible ferns, rapunzel, wild garlic and more than 25 varieties of mushrooms collected by the chef and not even thought to exist. “Exploring the territory is not a fad, but the result of years of walking in the countryside and mountains. Something that has enriched and led to me having a keen eye on the importance of vegetation in the kitchen”.
The Manzoni brothers, Alex and Vittorio, are the two young chefs at the Osteria degli Assonica (one Michelin star) at Sorisole, midst the hills of Bergamo. Their recipes are strongly connected to nature: what the chefs have mapped out in each valley ended up being grown by themselves in the herbarium where they lovingly look after around 60 herbs, flowers and wild fruits.
If this cuisine “from the woods to the plate” might appear a world away from that of the city, then you might change your mind with a visit to the rooftops and to The Medelan, behind piazza Cordusio, where the Horto doors open, the restaurant of co-founders Osvaldo Bosetti and Diego Panizza, bearing the mark of Norbert Niederkofler, south Tyrolean Chef and star of sustainability in the kitchen (a veritable pioneer) and the Executive Alberto Toè. In this bucolic and undreamed of corner of the metropolis everything is based on the concept of “Ethical hour”. “We involve farmsteads, dairies and farmers who are working no more than an hour away from Milan,” they enthuse ” reducing waste to a minimum”. It’s a genuine salotto but complete with a vegetable plot on the terrace. It’s here that the vegetables arrive from Cascina Fascina di Abbiategrasso, rice from Cavalieri d’Italia di Giussano, whilst Jacopo and Francesca di Gea bring mushrooms and flowers to enjoy in this bucolic corner on the roofs of the metropolis.