Dinato tells the story of his life as a chef
An autobiographical novel from the chef of Feva. Who also launches a "manifesto" called Cucina Madre
Nicola Dinato is the patron-chef at Feva, in Castelfranco Veneto. He travelled for six years working in the most important European kitchens
“The quality of the cooking he had experimented made him proud to be a chef. He wanted to stand out from workmen by the stoves, he wanted to become an artisan and an artist in the kitchen. For mere mortals, this made no difference, but to him it mattered. He had fought to reach that standard”. This is the intention with which chef Paolo starts his “marvellous six year long journey”, a journey of training and education that led him to open his own restaurant in Vita da cuoco (Editoriale programma, 12 euros), the strongly autobiographical short novel in which Nicola Dinato tells his story and that of the world in which he, the son of a railway worker and a homeworker, wanted to enter at all costs. A world of which, however, he does not want to hide the limits, faults, and even pathologies: “In fine dining, the favourite sport is eliminating the enemy, by using lots of psychological terrorism”.
It is easy to find in Paolo’s story the faithful representation of the experience of the then 33-year-old Nicola. It is obvious for one to find in the restaurants, in the chefs crossing the life of the former, the same figures that were sometimes just mere stops in his training journey, sometimes real masters for Dinato who, as of almost three years ago, is the patron-chef of restaurant Feva in Castelfranco Veneto – on which some deserved rewards are starting to shine – after lots of experience in Italy and abroad, with great haute cuisine chefs, from Michel Roux jr in London to Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo, from Ferran Adrià to Roses, until his most recent internship at Grant Achatz in Chicago.
This is the city in which he happens to be when we call Feva to discuss a little about this book with its author. This is why the shy and kind voice answering is that of Elodie Dubuisson, Sophie in the book, whom he met in London, when at Le Gavroche – she was working there as a waitress – and who has followed him along a common journey that led them to become partners in work – she’s the co-owner of Feva, besides directing dining room and cellar – as in life.
Dinato wrote an autobiographical novel, Vita da cuoco
We thus reach Dinato when he returns to Veneto. In the book, Paolo is called a «Venetian mule», and on the telephone Nicola betrays his origins. Behind his accent, however, clear ideas and a non-common determination are concealed: «Our duty is first of all to give value to our territory, in fact, to our thousand micro-territories. I think highly of Heston Blumenthal, of the philosophy behind his Dinner and his re-discovery of ancient typical recipes he would then re-present, updated». He does the same: the menu at Feva is full of local delicacies that are then matched with the classic French technique (which he learnt in London), a Mediterranean touch (Monte Carlo) and admirable technical skills (Roses), plus oriental influences.
However, we’re not in front of a cuisine that lacks in identity. In fact, it is to establish it, that Dinato has marked a sort of manifesto, called Cucina Madre, «for our tradition is female. In France, cooking is made of chefs at the court of kings and aristocrats; in Italy, it is that of housewives. This is what we need to start from» not to stop again, of course: the example is Massimo Bottura’s Bollito not boiled. «This is the only way, if we want our food not to stay always in the background: first the French, then the Spanish, then the Northern Europeans… How about us?»; we need to acquire a strong identity (Cucina Madre, indeed) says the chef from Camposampiero, we need to do so in order to act in synergy, «whereas we are still too focused on ourselves». We must learn to show ourselves better. After all, even Paolo, in the book, “could not understand why in Italy fine dining was so undervalued”.