Stefano Baiocco, the calm tempest

The chef nurses a fertile and omnivorous creativity in the placid opulence of Villa Feltrinelli. And serves a great dinner...

03-10-2017

Stefano Baiocco, great chef at Villa Feltrinelli in Gargano, on the Brescian side of Lake Garda. First star in 2007, second in 2014

Photogallery

Our dinner at  Villa Feltrinelli, starting from the appetizers. Here Datterino all'arrabbiata (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Cauliflower gravel (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Vegetal toast (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Ravioli with beetroot, salmon and lime (photo by Lido Vannucchi)

At the end of a marvellous dinner, a question comes natural: «How come such a talented, young and creative chef like you chose to be faithful to hotel catering for 17 years now, with all its pros and cons?». Stefano Baiocco hesitates a moment: not because he’s unprepared – in fact, he must have wondered a million times – but because he knows the issue well, and never gave himself a definitive answer. Then he explains his choice. 

«Here I feel at ease, and it’s fine for me. Of course at first I had adapt. I realised I had to create a double track, gourmet dishes on one side, and caprese for those requesting it on the other». These difficulties have in fact stimulated his creativity, instead of discouraging him. At Villa Feltrinelli he can afford the luxury of working – intensely – for six/seven months per year (the last service is on Saturday 7th:  be quick), then the hotel closes and he can focus on research, on travelling. At the moment he also oozes a special energy: «During the winter break, we’ll pull down the kitchen. I can’t wait. It will be a Ferrari. I can’t sleep at night. I’ve been cherishing this project for two years now. I designed it myself, with Marrone», and he walks you to see the pass that will no longer be there, the area for the new stoves, and so on, as happy as a child on Christmas Eve.

Villa Feltrinelli in a photo by Richard Haughton

Villa Feltrinelli in a photo by Richard Haughton

We’ve mentioned Ferrari and it’s a suitable reference: Baiocco is also a one-off. He has found the right balance so as to continue to run fast, without losing control. A nice balance of enthusiasm, creativity and moderation: like his dishes, mature and complex, but always with that extra oomph that makes them fascinating, unexpected, thrilling. His Insalata is famous, so much so it’s become a classic signature dish: 120 different herbs, 30 flowers, plus champignon brittle and oil of almonds from Noto.

Carefully separated tomatoes...

Carefully separated tomatoes...

...and their model

...and their model

He replicated it recently with a dish with a similar concept, Tutto pomodoro, fine tuned in its current version last year: 37 types of tomato processed in different ways – powered, in osmosis with balsamic vinegar aromatized with citrus fruits, as a salad, as chips, confit, in osmosis with a sweet and hot sauce… - with a pudding made with buffalo mozzarella water and granita di panzanella. He gets the vegetables from Alto Adige, he’s proud of the results, of its charming flavour. He serves it with a list of the varieties used, from “a” (Aunt Roby) to “z” (Zebrino), with old acquaintances like yellow and red Cherry tomatoes, Beefsteak tomatoes, Piccadilly and Ramato in the middle, and new products like Green Cherokee and Sky Racer. «It requires a super-organised work», he has specific bowls and charts, a meticulous system. After all, this is the road Baiocco has taken: being innovative, surprising, while keeping to a well-known, easy to understand and comforting world.

It is for this reason that his cooking is always dynamic. On our visit – all the dishes are in the photo-gallery – we tasted delicacies «I’ve always prepared» like...a simple Insalata, that is, or Amelia, a charming dessert thus renamed recently, here’s why: Baiocco and the dessert dedicated to kitchen hand Amelia. But then many others were only born this year: Ravioli “al verde”, truly perfect; Risotto al “corallo”; Rabbit kidney, up to the dessert, La Banana and La Vecchia Gargnano.

This to say that Baiocco is really one of a kind: he moves fast among the stuccoes, accelerates among the brocades, he’s daring among the multicoloured glass and the opulence of the villa. D’Annunzio and his Vittoriale, nearby, come to mind. In other words, to fully reply to the initial question, Villa Feltrinelli– frescoed ceilings and Venetian mirrors – fits him, even though he’s a rebel. He recalls how he ended up here, almost by chance: «The building used to belong to a family from Brescia, but it was almost decrepit. In 1997 New Yorker Bob Burns (founder of hotel chain Regent International) took over, and renovations began». The grand hotel was opened in 2001 – it now belongs to a Russian, one of the 50 wealthiest men in the world.

One year later, the kitchen was suffering: Baiocco had been sous chef at Rossellinis in Palazzo Sasso, now Avino, in Ravello, with Pino Lavarra for three years. He got a call, asking him to go to Gargnano, «but I said no. I was about to go to Ferran Adrià», the engagement with Lake Garda was postponed, but just a little.

Photo by Lido Vannucchi

Photo by Lido Vannucchi

Speaking of Adrià: there are only a few chefs who, at Baiocco’s age – he was born in 1973 – have such noble experience and so varied: 1995 Enoteca Pinchiorri, 1998 Alain Ducasse in Paris («The town was still sleeping when I left home for work in the morning»), Pierre Gagnaire the following year («A guy on the plane gave me the phone number of an Italian guy who worked there. I called him from a phone booth: “Hi Antonio, my name is Stefano”, and so on. It was Antonio Guida, he made me enter that iconic place, though we never worked together, he left for Pinchiorri before I arrived. But we remained very close»), and then Rossellinis and El Bulli, in 2003.

Though he hasn’t moved since 2004, this is not because he’s settled. This is proven by the number of internships in these years (Andoni Luis Aduriz, the Roca brothers, Quique Dacosta, Pascal Barbot, Dani Garcia, Seiji Yamamoto and in a kaiseki restaurant, Kikunoi in Kyoto); and by their variety, which gives the idea of an omnivorous and multifaceted chef, of a professional whose thirst for knowledge is never satisfied; it is proven, above all, by his cooking, which is the most important thing of all.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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Photogallery

Our dinner at  Villa Feltrinelli, starting from the appetizers. Here Datterino all'arrabbiata (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Cauliflower gravel (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Vegetal toast (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Ravioli with beetroot, salmon and lime (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Zabaglione and dried sturgeon biscuit (photo by Lido Vannucchi)
Gazpacho with cherries and scampi (photo by Massimo Loda): scampi tails marinated with citrus zest, vegetable crudité and cherry gazpacho
Carpaccio with dehydrated watermelon, ovuli, Parmigiano, lettuce leaves and lettuce cream
Tutto pomodoro (photo by Massimo Loda)
Tiramisù di porcini (photo by Vincenzo Matteo Lonati), this dish is three years old but is already a classic. It has savoiardi soaked in porcini water, salted mascarpone, cocoa powder and porcini
Raviolo "al verde" (photo by Lido Vannucchi), an extraordinary dish: pasta with chlorophyll filled with wild herbs and goat cheese, seasonal vegetables (blanched chards, asparagus, roasted friggitello) and crushed basil. Incredible vegetal echoes in a rich and elegant first course
Risotto al "corallo": Carnaroli creamed with butter and lobster coral, salmon roe, powdered lobster coral and prawn legs, grapefruit juice. «I was already making butter with lobster coral in the days at Pinchiorri»
Rabbit kidney, taggiasche olives, broth of cod in the style of Ancona, a dish that Baiocco dedicates to his homeland