Camanini and the origins of Italian cuisine

The chef from Lido 84 studies the ancient masters, starting from Bartolomeo Scappi. And serves an extraordinary dinner...

05-09-2017

Riccardo Camanini at Identità Milano 2017 (photo by Brambilla-Serrani)

Photogallery

Our dinner at Riccardo Camanini’s in the photos by Tanio Liotta. We start: instead of the old, boring series of appetizers, a “real” dish: Apple, caprino, basil
Tapioca, orange and arctic char roe
Scorched Fine de Claire Krystale oyster, ginger, hazelnut oil Igp. The pairing of oysters and hazelnuts is sublime (I had already appreciated it at Luigi Taglienti’s): in this case there’s also the magic touch of the ginger
Tartare of perch from Lake Garda, light mayonnaise with fig leaves, toasted sunflower seeds

On a long summer day, Riccardo Camanini happens to read some ancient recipes, and gets excited: «There’s so much talk about eating insects, starting from Redzepi's ants... Bartolomeo Scappi ["The secret cook of Pope Pius V" and author of a treatise on cooking] was already teaching how to cook dormice stuffed with pork!» And how to prepare oxen heads, pigs breasts, duck tongue, crane. But also dishes that are more familiar to us: Quince soup with meat stock, Omelette with sturgeon eggs, Potage of stuffed calamari, Cascio parmiggiano in fettuccie, Sweetbreads pies, Maccaroni alla romanesca… In his Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi (1570), Scappi presents a huge heritage of culinary knowledge. Camanini reads it avidly, «it’s an endless cornucopia of stimuli».

The work of M. Bartolomeo Scappi, the secret cook of Pope Pius V (1570)

The work of M. Bartolomeo Scappi, the secret cook of Pope Pius V (1570)

And there’s not just one source of knowledge one can draw from: there’s Maestro Martino from Como, who worked with the Sforza family in Milan and in papal Rome, in the middle of the 15th century; there’s Cristoforo di Messisbugo from Ferrara, who worked with the Este family half a century later; there’s Scappi from Varese, who ended up in the Vatican’s kitchens, as we mentioned, one century later; and Bartolomeo Stefani, chef from Bologna working with the Gonzaga family in the 17th century (we wrote about him here, in this piece on the new edition of the "Cucina mantovana di principi e di popolo"). And before that, in the days of ancient Rome, there was Apicius, whom Camanini studied and who inspired him the dish he presented in the latest edition of Identità Milano, see What a lesson from Riccardo Camanini, chef of the year 2017. These are just a few examples, though the most famous ones.

The staff at Lido 84 - there’s almost everyone. Left from right: Muhammed Zahoor, Ahmed Shakeel, Andrea Puliga, Nicholas Berardi, Aliguettu Billa, Dorde Milinkovic, Gilles Fornoni, chef Riccardo Camanini, Ruggero Majolatesi, Andrea Capasso, sous chef Marco Tacchetto, Giancarlo Camanini dining room manager, Cristian Fermo, Martina Sguerso, pastry chef Federica D’Alpaos, Antonino Scirè and sommelier Manuele Menghini. Babar Shahzad and bread maker Luca Pedersoli were not there (photo by Tanio Liotta)

The staff at Lido 84 - there’s almost everyone. Left from right: Muhammed Zahoor, Ahmed Shakeel, Andrea Puliga, Nicholas Berardi, Aliguettu Billa, Dorde Milinkovic, Gilles Fornoni, chef Riccardo Camanini, Ruggero Majolatesi, Andrea Capasso, sous chef Marco Tacchetto, Giancarlo Camanini dining room manager, Cristian Fermo, Martina Sguerso, pastry chef Federica D’Alpaos, Antonino Scirè and sommelier Manuele Menghini. Babar Shahzad and bread maker Luca Pedersoli were not there (photo by Tanio Liotta)

See, the star from  Lido 84 travels back into our culinary history not just to find inspiration for himself, which is an extraordinary goal in any case, come to think of it, the creative freedom of the contemporary chef applied not just to researching new, hyper technological processes or based on complex chemistry and physics; nor to hunt down rare or bizarre raw materials from the other side of the world. In fact, he draws from a treasure that we already have and connects the Italian present with its desire of grandeur with a time in the past – especially Renaissance or right after the Renaissance – when such culinary glory was in fact in place.

Again Riccardo Camanini at Identità Milano 2017 (photo by Brambilla-Serrani)

Again Riccardo Camanini at Identità Milano 2017 (photo by Brambilla-Serrani)

But there’s more. An even more fertile and deep idea shines: freeing Italian cuisine from any dependency. Rediscovering the ancient and forgotten masters, releasing ourselves from French primacy, Spanish lessons or Nordic lichens; freeing ourselves from the inferiority complex (or the lack of awareness) that makes us chase ceviche and spherifications, katsuobushi and jus, so as to rediscover a dimension that comes from our very tradition: and not just the popular one – which has always characterised trattorias, the most original, emblematic and typically Italian product – but that of the noblemen too. That is to say he’s making even fine dining more noble (by uprooting its noble fathers) in a sort of culinary new Humanism. «We already cooked all sorts of ingredients, over the centuries», ends Camanini with a smile. Except we no longer know it.

Double buttons, celeriac, ricotta and lemon, mackerel and anchovy colatura from Cetara

Double buttons, celeriac, ricotta and lemon, mackerel and anchovy colatura from Cetara

MEANWHILE… - This is also a deserving cultural work, which the chef conducts having a full restaurant («We’ve been fully booked for months», seating 40 people at lunchtime and as many in the evening) and blissful food («But I’m still working on Scappi’s inspiration», perhaps the time will come in the autumn), with a sounder and sounder organisation (in September, last year, he told us: «At first – on the 21st of March 2014, not a lifetime ago – we were four. We’re now 13 plus two paid interns, and two new hires are in the books». They’re now 19). At the end of an extraordinary dinner, what struck me the most was the seeming simplicity with which Camanini finds the short way to taste, with no frills, by getting the perfect flavour; and harmony, neatness, complexity, as in the deep and enveloping Tapioca, orange and arctic char roe, or the voluptuous Tartare of perch from Lake Garda, light mayonnaise with fig leaves, toasted sunflower seeds. Or the fabulous Veal heart sweetbreads, raw and cold carrots in saor, orange punch, cumin, portulaca and Leopoldo geranium.

I was also struck by the Double buttons, celeriac, ricotta with lemon, mackerel, anchovy colatura from Cetara: one of the best dishes I’ve tasted in a very, very long time. Here’s the complete dinner in the photo gallery by Tanio Liotta.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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Photogallery

Our dinner at Riccardo Camanini’s in the photos by Tanio Liotta. We start: instead of the old, boring series of appetizers, a “real” dish: Apple, caprino, basil
Tapioca, orange and arctic char roe
Scorched Fine de Claire Krystale oyster, ginger, hazelnut oil Igp. The pairing of oysters and hazelnuts is sublime (I had already appreciated it at Luigi Taglienti’s): in this case there’s also the magic touch of the ginger
Tartare of perch from Lake Garda, light mayonnaise with fig leaves, toasted sunflower seeds
Double buttons, celeriac, ricotta with lemon, mackerel and anchovy colatura from Cetara
Risotto, ginger, mozzarella water: Camanini is a magician. In this case he uses no butter nor Parmigiano, but nobody notices
Salted codfish tripe, sea snails, rock broth with saffron, chickpeas, basil, dried mandarin leaves. A strong taste, the chef recreates the "other cuisine", it’s a sort of ode to Italian trattoria and its rich flavours. Reassuring
The salted codfish tripe is served with Bruschetta with garlic, pimenton and smoked 'nduja. A tribute to popular cuisine indeed
Veal heart sweetbreads, raw and cold carrots in saor, orange punch, cumin, portulaca and Leopoldo geranium
Dessert: Dark chocolate mousse, cream with Lagavulin 16 years whisky, pan brioche aromatised with orange: memories of a tarte au chocolat
The beautiful Wild strawberries, ricotta from Sicilian sheep, strawberry seed oil and basil. There’s another piece presenting strawberry seed oil, a precious Austrian delicacy: Camanini as chef, Bottura as guest