Stefano Ferraro, head pastry-chef at Noma: failing is a premise for growth

The chef from Torino, responsible for the desserts in the famous Danish establishment, tells his story. And offers advice to his young colleagues

03-01-2020
Stefano Ferraro, from Torino, since February 2018

Stefano Ferraro, from Torino, since February 2018 is head pastry-chef at Noma in Copenhagen, restaurant number two according to the World’s 50Best, and 2 Michelin stars

I started cooking in London, in the summer of 2008. I was 21, I wanted to learn English and then return to Italy and continue my studies in Economics, at university. Things went differently, though: I stayed there, and worked for 3 years and a half with Joël RobuchonGordon Ramsay and Alberto Hernandez.

After the UK, I ended up cooking on the other side of the world: Hong Kong, my first important role as sous chef at Armani Aqua; at Collage inside the Conrad Hotel in Tokyo, with Maeda San; in Dubai and Sydney as head pastry-chef with Jason Atherton. In Australia I met René Redzepi, who asked me to move to Copenhagen. I wanted to start from scratch and put myself to the test in a unique environment. There I worked as sous chef of pastry first (even in the pop up in Tulum, Mexico) and then as head of pastry at Noma 2.0. I’ve been in Copenhagen since April 2016. This city is a gem: the best quality of life I have ever experienced. It’s a liveable city, it gives you serenity, it’s dynamic and cosmopolite. 

Today I’m in charge of creating sweet dishes. To be precise, I’m part of the Test Kitchen, a team of 5 people who works full time in the research and development of the new menus. At Noma we divide the year into three well defined seasons, the ocean from January to June, the vegetal world from June to September and game and forest from October to December. This means that in the test kitchen we always live and work in the future, in a sense.

Mousse of Kamechi yogurt  with praline with poppy seeds, a dessert currently at Noma, in the Game & Forest menu  (photo from Instagram/Stefano Ferraro). “This dish”, the author Ferraro explains, “is the result of a long and complex work that joins ingredients and preparations from different projects. There’s wild poppy seeds, picked in the forests right outside Copenhagen by Zenia, our forager. In the test kitchen we worked with seeds and nuts, trying to adapt a classic technique (praline) to products with the same organoleptic features. In the fermentation laboratory, instead, we made this incredible yogurt, made from Georgian buffalo milk. Once these components were together, my task was to translate them with the utmost simplicity, with the use of a yogurt inside a mousse, adding cardamom and the juice of white currants, then seasoning the praline with a syrup of liquorice. Failure after failure after failure”.

Mousse of Kamechi yogurt  with praline with poppy seeds, a dessert currently at Noma, in the Game & Forest menu  (photo from Instagram/Stefano Ferraro). “This dish”, the author Ferraro explains, “is the result of a long and complex work that joins ingredients and preparations from different projects. There’s wild poppy seeds, picked in the forests right outside Copenhagen by Zenia, our forager. In the test kitchen we worked with seeds and nuts, trying to adapt a classic technique (praline) to products with the same organoleptic features. In the fermentation laboratory, instead, we made this incredible yogurt, made from Georgian buffalo milk. Once these components were together, my task was to translate them with the utmost simplicity, with the use of a yogurt inside a mousse, adding cardamom and the juice of white currants, then seasoning the praline with a syrup of liquorice. Failure after failure after failure”.

BBQed waffle with cloudberry cream, another dessert from the Italian pastry-chef, currently in the menu. “The starting point”, Ferraro explains, “was to work on the concept of an ice-cream sandwich. I wanted to use these waffles, cooked on a barbecue in old wrought iron moulds and seasoned with red fir oil and filipendula, as the “biscuit” for the sandwich. But I didn’t make it on time. As soon as René tasted them, they became the star of the dish. And then came the pairing with wild cloudberry, syrup and whipped cream. A natural, almost banal match”

BBQed waffle with cloudberry cream, another dessert from the Italian pastry-chef, currently in the menu. “The starting point”, Ferraro explains, “was to work on the concept of an ice-cream sandwich. I wanted to use these waffles, cooked on a barbecue in old wrought iron moulds and seasoned with red fir oil and filipendula, as the “biscuit” for the sandwich. But I didn’t make it on time. As soon as René tasted them, they became the star of the dish. And then came the pairing with wild cloudberry, syrup and whipped cream. A natural, almost banal match”

At Noma, the service kitchen is a separate organ: the head chef, sous chefs, chefs de partie and interns work there. The test kitchen has a separate role: we work in close contact with Redzepi creating dishes that will best represent the following season. This means test after test, tastings, experiments as well as many failures. The key to my work is learning from every mistake, the premise for every improvement. Intuition and instinct are the main weapons. And to these you must apply technique and knowledge.

The kitchens at Noma will have you forget all that you have learnt. The techniques, the flavours, the scents, the approach to ingredients, the planning of the day: it’s all new. It’s hard to explain, but René knows how to draw the best from every person. I believe the secret is that he leaves the single actors (cooks and waiters) free to express themselves, without limiting them with a script. Which requires assertiveness, courage, vision. Once everyone is able of expressing themselves, Redzepi knows how to put their qualities to the service of the team, and hence of the final goal. This is, beyond techniques, flavours and pairings, the most important lesson I’ve learnt. An approach that requires time, sacrifice and consistency.

An old photo of Italian cooks at Noma: left to right Luca Armellino, Jessica Natali, Edo Fiaschi, Riccardo Canella, Ferraro

An old photo of Italian cooks at Noma: left to right Luca ArmellinoJessica NataliEdo Fiaschi, Riccardo CanellaFerraro

Ferraro presents his desserts, following a well-established format at Noma

Ferraro presents his desserts, following a well-established format at Noma

Do I have any advice for young cooks? Choose your future: life is made of choices, hundreds of decisions that we don’t even realise we’re making, every day. Listen to your conscience, act not only in your interest, but in the interest of the people surrounding you too – family members, friends or colleagues. In the kitchen, as well as in the private live, shortcuts are never a good idea. Be brave, leave your comfort zone. There’s a world waiting to be discovered out there. Discover parts of yourself you didn’t even think existed. You’ll improve as cooks, but most of all as people.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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