A tea with Viviana

The one she drinks and the one she cooks. Alice’s chef and her special relationship with tea

08-07-2013
The basement room of the Alice restaurant in Viale

The basement room of the Alice restaurant in Viale Adige 9 in Milan, +39.02.5462930, Viviana Varese and Sandra Ciciriello den. Varese pays lots of attention to tea: she drinks white tea, she doesn’t love strong flavours or aromatised teas but uses Lapsang Souchong or Matcha tea as an ingredient in some of her dishes (photo Brambilla/Serrani)

A bright idea came into Alice's head. «Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?» she asked. «Yes, that's it,» said the Hatter with a sigh: «it's always tea-time, and we've no time to wash the things between whiles.» Quoting Lewis Carroll’s novel perhaps is not particularly original but it very accurate if we’re talking of Viviana Varese, of her restaurant, Alice, and of the book “Alice e le meraviglie del pesce” (Alice and the wonders of fish). This is because the chef (contrary to her partner Sandra who prefers wine) drinks and loves tea, white tea in particular, a precious drinks, with a natural fermentation.

This tea has a light infusion and a subtle flavour, it is particularly delicate and has to be enjoyed by itself, without any distraction for the palate, perhaps using a special Chinese Zhong cup: Yin Zhen or “Silver needles” but also the famous Pai Mu Tan or “White Peonia”, dishevelled and wild, with a stronger hay flavour and a tendency to be dry on the palate. These are rare teas, picked only twice or three times a year, in some particular days determined by the lunar calendar. They are renown for their refreshing properties, and are also excellent in the summertime to help you tolerate the great heat.

Codfish "salted by myself" with smoked black tea, yellow amatriciana tomatoes and potato purée

Codfish "salted by myself" with smoked black tea, yellow amatriciana tomatoes and potato purée

Viviana explains she doesn’t like strong teas, nor aromatised ones. Aside from white tea, she enjoys Chinese green teas which are delicate and which she sips in the afternoon, between one shift in the kitchen and the other, while in the evening, when she finishes work, she prefers a Rooibos or an infusion, since they have no caffeine. In her restaurant, she wanted to create a tea and infusion list that included, among others, Perle de Jade, with green tea prestige sprouts and white jasmine flowers, and Mi Lan Xian Dan Cong, one of the 10 most famous Dan Cong, which is picked in late spring in Guangdong, in the Chao Zhou district, is 60% fermented and has a natural aroma of liquorish and sandal wood. She serves these in Oriental cups and teapots, with an hourglass so the guest can calculate the right timing for the infusion of the leaves, and some lovely petit fours.

If, on the other hand, we speak of her use of tea in the kitchen, the colours change: like many of her colleagues, she finely chops the leaves of smoky Lapsang Souchong so as to obtain a powder using which she sometimes creates an aromatised oil. In her book she included two recipes in which she uses tea: in Quattro finger di pesce crudo the seabass prepared like for a tartare, with oil, salt and black tea, is the stuffing for a cherry tomato, in Salted codfish with smoked black tea, yellow tomato amatriciana and tomato puree, the powdered Lapsang in the finishing adds an extra touch.

Viviana Varese, chef of Alice in Milan

Viviana Varese, chef of Alice in Milan

The chef says she often prepares a fruit salad which she seasons with some green tea infused at cold temperature and aromatic herbs (marjoram, fennel and tarragon): the sweet-lightly-sweet flavour is not her passion but many people order this... She’s also studying a green tea ice cream but not with Matcha (a powdered Japanese green tea commonly used in pastry-making), but with some special infusion. She will ask her trusted tea-sommelier for his advice.


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The universe of the most popular infusion drink and its multiple uses, even in the kitchen