The Niko Romito system: human factor, research, codification, multiplication

The chefís work starts from Casadonna and spreads across his world, thanks to the contribution of many people

11-03-2018

Niko Romito on the stage of Identità Milano 2018 (photo Brambilla-Serrani)

Short self-descriptions. Close ups with embarrassed smiles, misty eyes and flaws in plain view, the kind of imperfections that make the face of someone dear both recognisable and unique. Clarissa Cappellani’s video portrays the universe of Niko Romito through the people who make this universe. Faces, names and roles of men and women who helped the fantastic career of the chef from Castel di Sangro come true.

This is how Romito celebrates the 14th edition of Identità Milano dedicated to the Human Factor, aiming for the heart and the mind in just one blow. It’s as human factor as it gets... Indeed, while it is true that this young man who acquired a leading role in Italian and international cuisine represents the engine and epicentre of a machine with happily gigantic ganglia, it is also true that this complex system could have never been possible without many eyes, arms and intentions, all directed to the same goal. Cristiana Romito, general manager at CasadonnaDavide Mazza, pillar at Niko Romito FormazioneGiovanni Sinesi, sommelier. Dino Como, right and left arm for eight years now, directing RealeGaetano Di Loreto, the good morning at Casadonna with magnificent breakfasts. And then Claudio Catino at Bulgari ShanghaiGaia Giordano at Spazio Milano. And all the others.

Gabriele Zanatta, a pillar at Identità Golose, summed up his career in a short phrasebook with many items that has Niko Romito as its nucleus and engine. He recalled how the young chef, when he still didn’t have any stars, spoke of extractions and juices on the stage of Identità, ahead of his times, and of super-precise and successful balances between pasta and sauce. He recalled his research on meat proteins, his exploring single-ingredient recipes (Assoluto di cipolla), the miracle of transforming a vegetable into a dish that had the same structure of meat (Cabbage and potatoes). Dishes and projects. Niko Romito Formazione. The exponential growth of Spazio (Rivisondoli, Milan, Rome). Intelligenza nutrizionale, the hospital catering of the future. And Bulgari, the maison through which the word of Niko and of Italian fine dining will finally reach large capitals using strong foundations and beyond any cliché.

«The three essential elements on which my group is based are research, codification and multiplying the results we’ve achieved», said the chef from Reale, the heart of the Romito universe, the permanent lab from which everything starts. «The research starts from finding a limitation and overcoming it: the limitation of a cabbage was the structure of the cabbage itself, the goal was to make its leaves compact, so as to create a unique and different structure. How could we overcome that limitation? That question was the sparkle for the creative process. It took us one year to reach that goal». Cataloguing all the results of this research leads to the second step: multiplying the results, following different intensities based on where they are predented. At Spazio, for instance, the research from Reale results in a simpler, more straightforward language: «This is what I mean when I say that Spazio is Reale’s prelude, it leads to a model. A concept that can be found in its most complex interpretation in the three-starred restaurant».

Paolo Marchi and Romito

Paolo Marchi and Romito

This is the trajectory followed by bread. While it is true that Niko was born covered in flour in his father’s pastry shop (Romito Sr was famous for his doughnuts and pastries), those initial memories now have a set place in the menu at the three-starred restaurant: in 2015 bread became a course. The new frontier for Reale is the opening of Laboratorio del Pane. «A loaf of bread becomes a bread factory». Here’s how.

Romito at work with Cauliflower au gratin

Romito at work with Cauliflower au gratin

And while all this becomes sounder and reveals itself, what with all the travels and the accomplishment, the chef announces the epiphany of ten dishes in the menu at Reale Casadonna. The latest born is Cauliflower au gratin. A magnificently minimal title, typical of Romito. «It’s steamed cauliflower dipped for ten days in a centrifuge juice of cauliflower which intensifies its flavour. Once cooked, we work on the extraction and then reduced it to make a 100% cauliflower glaze. Then there’s raw diced cauliflower, stir fried with cocoa butter so as to obtain a paste that is then processed with mustard seeds and drops of distilled bay leaves. Now we warm up the cauliflower in the oven and smoke it for a few seconds in a hermetic steel box. Finally two drops of oil aromatised with garlic, and two more of extra virgin olive oil», like Marylin getting ready to sleep.

Final picture: Romito with Gabriele Zanatta and Dino Como

Final picture: Romito with Gabriele Zanatta and Dino Como

This is a bare, straightforward cuisine that shows dedication to ingredients, preserving a heart of extraordinary complexity: steam cooking, maturation-fermentation, extraction-reduction, stratification, distillation, smoking, gratin, toasting. Eight techniques at the service of just one ingredient. Seemingly simple.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso