Potatoes, carrots and two Italians: dining at Clare Smythís

With the chef from Core, in London, thereís restaurant manager Davide Franco and Antonio Acquaviva in the kitchen, both born in Puglia in 1986

31-03-2018

Davide Franco, Antonio Acquaviva and Clare Smyth on the stage of Identità Milano 2018 (photo Brambilla-Serrani)

There’s plenty of Italy in one of the most popular restaurants in London, one to watch even according to the 50Best: Core by Clare Smyth. She was born in Northern Ireland in 1978 and spent her professional existence in three-starred kitchens and the like, as chef-patron for Gordon Ramsey in the Scotsman’s flagship restaurant, on Royal Hospital Road, in Chelsea, London. She arrived at 24, in 2002, and then moved for three years to Louis XV in Monte Carlo with Alain Ducasse plus shorter internships at the Roux’s Waterside Inn and at French Laundry and Per Se, on the two coasts of the United States, with Thomas Keller. She then returned “home”, to Ramsay’s, in 2008. If when she left for her first solo adventure, in 2016, the restaurant still had the highest ranking for the Red Guide, a good part of the merit goes to her, an iron woman.

Davide Franco, Clare Smyth and Antonio Acquaviva with Gabriele Zanatta, who presented the lesson

Davide Franco, Clare Smyth and Antonio Acquaviva with Gabriele Zanatta, who presented the lesson

This, however, is the past. On the 1st August Smyth opened Core, with some excellent Italian talents. These are two smiling and determined Apulians born in 1986, bearded Davide Franco from Trani, who’s the restaurant manager in 92 Kensington Park Road, and Antonio Acquaviva from Bisceglie, one of the pillars in the kitchen.

We met them at Identità Milano 2018, excited and proud to be on stage and present the style of the establishment – and later, during our interview – their story too. They met at catering school in Molfetta. Then Davide Franco chose to work in the dining room (and they lost sight of each other until they met again in London) including prestigious establishments such as Villa Feltrinelli with Stefano Baiocco for three years, then Trussardi in Milan, between Andrea Berton and Luigi Taglienti, then at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner in London, at Marcus Wareing’s Marcus, and at Helene DarrozeAcquaviva also has plenty of experience abroad: after Altro Mastai in Rome, he worked in the kitchen at Michel Roux jr’s Le Gavroche, Joël Robuchon’s Metropole in Monte Carlo and then at the Fat Duck.

Acquaviva at work

Acquaviva at work

They now both work in Nottingh Hill, in their respective roles. «Having a place of my own has been a dream for some time, and I’ve made it – said Smyth – I called it Core because it refers to the heart, the centre, the nucleus, the relationship with the 38 people with whom I work, including Davide and Antonio, part of my brigade for 6 years now».

Clare Smyth

Clare Smyth

This is the necessary premise before presenting her cuisine, represented by two dishes, both featuring vegetal ingredients. To begin with, potatoes, «I come from Northern Ireland. Potatoes are part of my history. I come from a family of farmers, of big potato producers. Our farm is close to the sea, so the tubers acquire its aroma». She recuperates this from some trout and herring roe, using Charlotte potatos from Sussex, «it’s marvellous», then there are chips made with potatoes fermented in vinegar. This results in Potato and roe - dulse beurre blanc, herring and trout roe, where she adds dulse seaweed and chives to the beurre blanc.

From potatoes to carrots, featured in the second recipe, Lamb carrot - braised lamb, sheep’s milk yoghurt. In this case too, Smyth focuses on the vegetal ingredient. «When we work in the kitchen, sometimes we throw away the best parts. For instance, we make a vegetable mirepoix, and use it for a stew, then discard it. It’s a pity, it’s a waste!». The chef recuperates it and enhances it, «lamb thus becomes just a side. We give a new status to vegetables in the kitchen: they get the main role, with the same impact of the other ingredients, and giving the same pleasure».

The potato-based dish

The potato-based dish

In order to do so, you need excellent ingredients. Indeed, Smyth never misses a chance to point out the importance of her network of suppliers, «Alan, Nick, Patrick, whom I call "the forest man". And Chris, who supplies Charlotte potatoes. I’ve been working with him for many years. He can tell me from which field each potato was selected. The human factor, the relationship with people is important. I had a duty to present a dish based on potatoes in my menu. As for carrots, they come from my own farm. I use part of them to create a sort of earth, with parsley and Barolo vinegar. The other part I glaze with a reduction of lamb» which she has cooked in a classic casserole, «we try to recapture every original flavour. We don’t want to be pretentious, we want guests to enjoy themselves. I’m happy when this happens. There’s a client who has come 32 times in six months».

Lamb carrot

Lamb carrot

Lamb carrot, like Potato and roe, is part of the tasting menu, «We present it right before the main course. We would like recipes like this one, with a vegetable in the main role, to become the main course itself, but we haven’t managed yet. Nor have we managed to make an onion-based dish. People aren’t ready yet». Clare, Antonio and Davide are working on it.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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