The Klugmann we love is ready for Masterchef

A visit to L’Argine where the chef is getting ready for television stardom. «I’m closing for 2 months, not to distort my nature»

15-05-2017

Antonia Klugmann in the morning while she’s picking herbs and sprouts in front of L'Argine together with intern Emanuele Del Do, from San Daniele in Friuli

Photogallery

Our splendid dinner at Antonia Klugmann’s in the photos by Tanio Liotta. We start with Fagottino with blanched chards, candied carrot, turmeric, chilli pepper, lemon juice and clover
Mussel from Sistiana, bottarga (in gel and grated), candied ginger, parsley, coriander and nigella: delicious
Whipped salted codfish and beetroot: codfish whipped with extra virgin olive oil, three expressions of beetroot (centrifuge juice, raw, thinly sliced, and smoked)
Raw pink prawn and torched friggitello, prawn bisque, tarragon

Question: are there perhaps two Antonia Klugmann? On the one hand, the one you see in the morning, kneeling to pick fresh sprouts and herbs, in the countryside around her restaurant... And then another, getting ready to become a famous Masterchef  judge? The chef with the soft touch, the gentle attitude we had already met at Venissa... And the future TV star, sincerely getting ready to inherit the “bad” role of Carlo Cracco, «I’m very strict in the kitchen», get ready to see her slaughter the participants?

We were wondering this, when approaching Vencò, a hamlet of Dolegna del Collio, in the province of Gorizia: a place outside and inside history which she chose as her culinary retreat («I wanted something like this: small, surrounded by nature. I travelled a lot around Friuli, to find it: everywhere I went, I saw landscapes wounded by industrial warehouses, bucolic scenes compromised by abandoned industrial areas. Then I got here…»).

L'Argine

L'Argine

I didn’t ask her, I must confess. Because Klugmann is a very intelligent woman, and she answered even before I uttered a word: «In June and July the restaurant will be closed. For two months L'Argine will be deserted: I will be at work with the TV shootings: so I prefer to close. I don’t want to deprive this place of its nature, which is what I’m building. Romano [De Feo, her partner for 15 years] will take the opportunity to create a room entirely surrounded by windows, something we had been dreaming of for a long time, for our guests».

It will be on the opposite side to the entrance, facing nearby Slovenia. As for us, we slept in one of the four, lovely and small rooms created on the left side of the restaurant, «looking onto nothing», that is to say something that for a long time we’ve learnt not to know: the countryside. «I was inspired by Kobe Desraumaults’s In de Wulf».

Klugmann, to the left, with her brigade: Kengo Okada, born in 1981 in Kobe, Japan, and Ligurian-Sicilian Sonia Sabello, 1994

Klugmann, to the left, with her brigade: Kengo Okada, born in 1981 in Kobe, Japan, and Ligurian-Sicilian Sonia Sabello, 1994

Antonia is getting ready – full of the awareness that derives from culture – to live this strange adventure, as the aspiring Heidi that suddenly jumped under the spotlight. Visiting her is like reaching a place that has had a healthy and pragmatic lack of interest in time: the Austrians were here, Slovenians are over there, here there used to be a WWI armoury, over there, the border. It doesn’t matter. The timelessness of the rural world pays no attention to the running after each other of counterposed armies.

«A farmer used to live in this building. He didn’t have a bathroom. The washing machine was in the courtyard… With Romano we wanted a modern building next to the original one», with which it communicates in perfect symbiosis, in a constant reference to past, present and future, «we called an architect, his quote was too expensive», so De Feo dusted off his surveyor diploma and made Antonia’s dreams come true.

She tells us about the past winter, «for two weeks we reached -17°C. All the sprouts were lost». And she asks: «How can Michel Bras handle the vegetable garden in the winter? I must pay him a visit». After all, last summer, +45°C became customary in the kitchen: but Klugmann stands this happily, «Romano would like to add air-conditioning, but it’s very expensive. It’s best to resist».

Klugmann with Paolo Marchi at Identità Milano 2015

Klugmann with Paolo Marchi at Identità Milano 2015

She goes to Masterchef confessing her intentions with disarming candour: «I need to so as to develop these things at L'Argine. To have the resources and the necessary fame to give sound foundations» to her imagination which has turned into something concrete.

All around, on the hills, says Romano, there’s one winery after the other, «La Viarte is there, then I Clivi, and Felluga». But the diamond that can make this territory shine is L’Argine and it needs fuel, «I need to become more famous».

Really? The evening arrives, it’s time to sit for dinner [of the highest standards. As portrayed in Tanio Liotta’s photo gallery]. «Antonia is about to arrive, she’s still at home», which is close to Cividale, she must feed five cats and a dog. She’s late because the service ended well into the afternoon, «guests didn’t want to leave». Because you feel great here at L’Argine: it is already, surely one of the best restaurants in Italian fine dining. Even without television.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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Photogallery

Our splendid dinner at Antonia Klugmann’s in the photos by Tanio Liotta. We start with Fagottino with blanched chards, candied carrot, turmeric, chilli pepper, lemon juice and clover
Mussel from Sistiana, bottarga (in gel and grated), candied ginger, parsley, coriander and nigella: delicious
Whipped salted codfish and beetroot: codfish whipped with extra virgin olive oil, three expressions of beetroot (centrifuge juice, raw, thinly sliced, and smoked)
Raw pink prawn and torched friggitello, prawn bisque, tarragon
Beef bone marrow and broccoli tips, the stalk served in brine, its centrifuge juice, the sautéed leaves, campion, oil, bergamot powder and purée: an unforgettable dish
Salad: blanched green asparagus later pan fried, lettuce from the vegetable garden, dried borage, its stalk cooked in water and butter, stellina odorosa, sorrel centrifuge juice. Another award winning dish, the composition changes every day, depending on what is available
Lamb liver and heart with grilled pork mantles, crisp beans and peas, pea shoots, sweet garlic cream
Tripe, beans, burnt powder and ivy: tripe is the so called cuffia, it is boiled as per tradition in vegetal broth, then cut into strips and browned, then boiled again with a smoked pork bones broth. Then there’s ashes of black celery, field ivy picked the same morning, borlotti beans «from our garden». Another great dish showing how make tripe elegant and complex
Spaghetti with squid and squid ink, «this is comfort food» says Romano De Feo. But excellent: the spaghetti from Gragnano are mixed with a sauce of squid liver, then pepper from Nepal to add a citrus note, squid ink and raw squid
A new risotto: Motta rice, parmigiano, wild baby spinach, cooked and raw, juniper oil, saba with parmigiano and grappa. «This is a dish I thought of during a tasting at Premiata Distilleria Pagura 1879 in Castions di Zoppola», the eldest in Friuli. Very interesting. We can even smell the aroma of panettone
White asparagus, almond water and rosemary flowers: they put asparagus in tinfoil and bake it with some butter, so as to keep it humid giving it a grilled note. Then there’s a little elderberry
Open lasagne with wild garlic and sclopit (the Friulian word for campion): the aromas are already in the dough, they add nettle cream, chopped bruscandoli, bible leaf, wild garlic seeds to add a crispy note. Pure, elegant vegetal notes