Marchesi’s 85 candles

An exclusive interview with the greatest chef of all. Speaking about his past, his present and a little of his future too

19-03-2015
Identità Milano 2007: Gualtiero Marchesi receives

Identità Milano 2007: Gualtiero Marchesi receives the homage of Pierre Troisgros

Gualtiero Marchesi turns 85 today, that is to say around 745 thousand hours of life. He spent two of these, last Tuesday, with us, sitting at a table at his Marchesino in Milan. Gracious, open. With a strong desire to tell his story. One of the projects that is most dear to him, is a retirement home for cooks, to be created next to Alma, the International School of Cuisine of which he’s the dean: yet he oozes life and ideas, it’s still early to see him strolling in the gardens of Colorno’s palace, even though he feels this prospect is all but disagreeable: «The great chefs of the past next to the students. It would be magnificent».

Past, future... But I would like to ask you about the present. What is the state of Italian cuisine?
«Not very good. There are good chefs around, but they appear to me to be isolated. In France they are much stronger, professionally, in many countries each fine dining restaurant stacks up hundreds of meals each day. Over here, there are only few capable of doing something like that. I try to make my contribution with Alma: yet it is a cultural problem, Italians are individualists… All chefs are “creative people”!».

But you can’t cling to the past for ever…
«You tell me. You need to cook with humility, love, but also curiosity. I remember a chat with Ermanno Olmi, these were his words: “Cooking is the greatest art of all because it includes science”. Yet you can’t be only scientists or chemical professionals, a chef then needs to intervene».

Many polemics regarding Ferran Adrià come to mind…
«Adrià? I appreciated the French much more: Pierre and Jean Troisgros, Alain Chapel… I believe the Catalan chef was a meteor, a chef must be an intuitive chemical professional, not just a chemical professional».

One day, many years ago, you made a decision: “I’ll stop playing because I need to create a new cuisine, something inconceivable in our country”. Seven lustrums later, has cuisine changed in the way you imagined?
«I didn’t have a precise idea of what I could do, but I wanted to express myself. And I wanted to do it well, based on Italian taste, but with some novelties for our country: my cooking procedures were correct, yet many people thought dishes were only half cooked».

Do people still overcook, in Italy?
«The inclination remains. Still, one cannot eat like a century ago, the world has changed. Our cuisine has the defect of being matriarchal, thus static as it is tied to our mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes».

Gualtiero Marchesi speaking with Gianluca Fusto at Identità Milano 2015
Gualtiero Marchesi speaking with Gianluca Fusto at Identità Milano 2015
Is this the worst defect of Italian cuisine?
«No, the worst one is not-knowing products. I love Japan, over there they know how to enhance ingredients».

Today, however, the most contemporary cuisine appears to be the Nordic one. René Redzepi, that is.
«I met him at Spigaroli’s, he told me he had a picture of me hanging in his kitchen. It pleases you, receiving such acknowledgements from abroad».

Is Italy meaner, in this sense?
«I’m not saying this. Still... From time to time someone tells me my name was made as future senator for life. I would like that, you know why? Not for me, I swear: but because it would be an important sign of attention towards Italian cuisine».

Let’s go back to Redzepi: at his restaurant, people eat ants too. Is this the direction of the cuisine of the future?
«I cannot imagine the man of the future. I’m open to all possibilities, still, my experience was different».

Why did you feel the need to write a “decalogue of the chef”?
«In fact, it is only one of my current projects. De Agostini will publish a big volume on Italian cuisine, which I edited: we went from 3 thousand recipes to around 1,500. I’m also preparing an illustrated book with my dishes: 120-140 recipes, with my story».

Which is the dish you hold dearest?
«I believe the Insalata di spaghetti al caviale [Spaghetti salad with caviar], is my biggest masterpiece. In that dish, the strong point is not the caviar, but the spaghetti! It took even myself a while to understand that».

Who are the Italian young chefs you like?
«Crippa, Oldani, Cracco…».

No, no! Someone who wasn’t a pupil of yours.
«I appreciate Enrico Bartolini».

The Insalata di spaghetti al caviale: «My biggest masterpiece»
The Insalata di spaghetti al caviale: «My biggest masterpiece»
It is a known fact that you also favour Paolo Lopriore
«He’s an artist. At Albereta I had both Crippa and Lopriore. Together. One morning I saw Enrico packing his things: “I’m leaving, I’m fed up”. He was angry with Paolo. Every night the two of them would decide the dishes for the following day, but then Paolo would do something completely different. Paolo is creativity. He’s genius».

He will now open a restaurant all by himself (we wrote about it here).
«Not having any owners, anymore, is a good decision. He has a difficult character. With me, however, there’s a perfect symbiosis… We could have still worked together», here the voice of Marchesi unveils a little regret.

You attended Lopriore’s lecture at the latest edition of Identità Milano. What is your opinion on our congress?
«I’m curious, I like to attend, I believe there are events that are useful to stay updated but you can also find inspiration, they make stimuli and good ideas blossom».

You love art. At that table, which great artist would you have liked to have as a guest?
«Pablo Picasso».

You always surrounded yourself with artists, you teamed up with intellectuals... Much less so with your chef-colleagues. Do you have any regrets, since “teaming up” seems to be the secret to allow a nation to grow in terms of fine dining?
«But this is not true! Over 30 years ago I created Le Soste… I would have liked to do much more, but this is a difficult country».

Could Expo be a good opportunity?
«Let’s hope so, we all need to work hard».

Please tell me the best dish in your life.
«I’ll tell you one of the latest ones: a simple white carton with powdered pumpkin seeds on top, which you had to eat with your fingertips. Lopriore’s pure genius».

Enrico Bartolini at Identità Milano 2015
Enrico Bartolini at Identità Milano 2015

Where did you have the best dinner?
«I’ll mention a recent one, at Bartolini’s Devero. With one failure: I cannot recall the dishes. Still, it is not the chef’s fault: there’s this habit now of serving lots of small portions, all very good, but they are harder to remember».

You now have Marchesino. Do you miss having your own fine dining restaurant, like at Albereta?
“There’s a project under development, in Milan, right in Piazza del Duomo. But I don’t know if I want to. After all, I’m fond of Marchesino, I would like to present all of my dishes there. They tell me I’m too small, too tied to the rhythms of La Scala. We’ll see».

If you looked back: would you have any professional regret?
«You shouldn’t have any. When my parents decided to let go of the restaurant they ran in Milano, I could have left to travel around Italy: three months in each region, to learn the different traditions. I didn’t do it. But I believe it was already good that I thought about it, that I had understood that I had to work on this aspect».

How about Marchesi as a man? What is the possible analysis?
«I was a bit naughty, I always thought that any chance you don’t take is lost forever... Oh, come on, I think I did well».


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