Emma and her huge eyes

Chef Andrea Ribaldone, his daughter and the right of sick people to eat well

15-07-2015
Andrea Ribaldone, chef at restaurant I Due Buoi in

Andrea Ribaldone, chef at restaurant I Due Buoi in Alessandria, with his daughter Emma, who’ll turn 14 in a few days’ time, and is affected by spastic tetraplegia since she was born. "You can make tasty food", says the chef at work these months at Identità Expo, "even for those who cannot swallow, you just need some extra time and attention"

He had at least two reasons to participate in Il pranzo possibile, on 13th July at Da Tuccino in Polignano a Mare (Bari): Tuccino himself, and his daughter, Emma. Chef Andrea Ribaldone should have been part of the starred team that landed in Apulia to prepare the best lunch of the year, the proceedings of which were entirely donated to Aisla (the Italian Association for ALS Research). The chef born in Milan, today at the helm of I Due Buoi in Alessandria was eager to help but a sudden job didn’t allow him to.

Ribaldone was in Apulia nonetheless, with his heart and soul. No rhetoric, just a daily exercise in an away game: dad&chef cooks foie gras and gorgonzola for Emma, and defends his daughter’s right to enjoy food. “She’s crazy about strong flavours”, he reveals, and while cooking for her he understood “the utmost pleasure for life, for those who cannot enjoy anything else, is a matter of palate and it is therefore about time that people start bringing gourmet cuisine inside hospitals”.

Andrea Ribaldone, you’re at home in Apulia, just like at Da Tuccino. Isn’t it so?
Indeed. There’s a profound friendship both with Pasquale and his brother-in-law Vito Mancini, who today has the helm of the restaurant, together with the rest of the family, thus fulfilling Tuccino’s dream. I’ve visited them many times, feeling at home, and that atmosphere is something I keep with me and keeps me strongly connected to them and their restaurant. They are special in many ways, starting from the elegance in the details of a real gourmet restaurant, in the attention paid to the tableware, in the extraordinary wine list. Their raw fish remains marked in your brain, you really can taste the sea in the dish. And then there’s that extra value, the strength of a family. They make you feel like a prince. I was truly sad not to be there, but I had no choice.

The disability allowance for Emma amounts to about 400€ per month, but the expenses to face are 3 times as much

The disability allowance for Emma amounts to about 400€ per month, but the expenses to face are 3 times as much

After all, you had at least two good reasons to be there, is it true?
It is. One of these is my daughter, Emma, who will turn 14 next 21st July. She was born with spastic tetraplegia. She is very sick, she speaks using her eyes, a little like Pasquale, except she’s not aware of her state. She has these huge eyes, and if you go close to her and kiss her, she reciprocates and expresses with a look a love that is out of the ordinary. And she has a beautiful face... when she sleeps her features are splendid. Yet it is those dark eyes that charm me. She’s truly my love.

Love, looks and great difficulties, one can imagine.
Terrible difficulties. My wife has completely sacrificed her life to Emma, I try to save all the time I can, at least one day a week is entirely dedicated to her. The time you dedicate to her, though, cannot be stolen from something else. It must be real time. I say it quite frankly, it is so totalising, it is terrible and beautiful at the same time. It is made of sleepless nights, when you need to face a long day at work in the kitchen the next day. It is made of boredom, sometimes, because you don’t have all the range of communication opportunities of any other relationship. And terrible thoughts, when all the weight of this outweighs the strength, but then these thoughts luckily go away.

Daria and Andrea Ribaldone

Daria and Andrea Ribaldone

What does Emma eat?
She likes strong tastes. She’s crazy about foie gras, gorgonzola, all blended of course, but I can assure you, you can make tasty food for those who cannot swallow too, you only need a little extra time and attention. In those suffering from such diseases, one of the senses that are intact is taste, and it is through this that all the pleasure about good food arrives, and in some way it is the pleasure of life itself. They cannot experience or discover anything else: sex, let’s not even speak about it, same goes for drinking. This is why I defend the right of Emma and all the other sick people to eat well. We are working in this direction with the hospital in Asti, we want to bring gourmet food in hospitals, which doesn’t mean expensive food, but food that is made with attention by those who know how to combine flavours. I truly believe sick people have a right to high quality food, not just in terms of nutrients but of taste too. It would be nice if the health system would open their doors to this kind of idea, bringing recipes created thinking of health and pleasure for the sick. Because there are many people who have no other possibility of enjoyment if not through their palate, and we need to give them at least this.


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