The Camanini method

One day in the kitchen of Lido 84 in Gardone Riviera. A sound and winning restaurant format


The majority of the kitchen staff at Lido 84 in Gardone Riviera, a town on Brescia’s bank of Lake Garda. Opened in March 2014, in the space of two years and a half the restaurant of the Camanini brothers (in the picture chef Riccardo is the third from the right and his brother Giancarlo the third from the left) established itself as one of the most interesting and sustainable ones in Italy

«Guys, the moment has come. We’ll offer our food, our service, and let’s hope we won’t go bankrupt». On 14th March 2014 Riccardo Camanini, as calm as the waves of Lake Garda slapping the water edge in front of Lido 84, is indoctrinating the team at the pass. This is the restaurant he took over after orchestrating banquets for a lifetime and a half at Villa Fiordaliso, a few steps away.

But this is finally “his” restaurant: the 7 guys of his first service are now all hired. Everything’s different. And the change is even bigger the following autumn, when the Michelin Guide gives them the first star in record time. It’s a sign the road might be the right one: praises arrive from everywhere and, for once, public and critics agree.

Two and a half years after the first orders were taken, Lido 84 is a restaurant shining with assertiveness in a poetic corner of Lake Garda. A strophe composed by a cultured and kind chef who leads a staff that has already doubled since the start: today there are 14 members. They take care of the 40 guests, the tables being very popular at the weekend, but even earlier, when lake tourism is usually dozing.  

La cuisine c'est beaucoup plus que des recettes. Cooking is more than recipes, the great Alain Chapel eagerly explained. So if we spent a day in the kitchen of Lido 84, it’s not to exalt its welcome with Almonds and gin, the Pasta cacio e pepe cooked in the bladder of a pig, in the way of the volaille de Bresse or the Torta di rose - online you can already find plenty of sentimental traces and the confirmation that this is one of the soundest and most creative chefs in Italy.

If the weather allows it, you can have lunch in the lovely garden overlooking the lake

If the weather allows it, you can have lunch in the lovely garden overlooking the lake

Instead we wanted to take a close look at a very successful restaurant format, built with the essential help of his brother, manager Giancarlo – whom Riccardo snatched from the universe of corporations. So as to trace an effective prototype of sustainability and innovation plus que des recettes.

«The model you find now», says the chef articulating his words, «is not the result of an arbitrary plan. It was born day by day. It changed in parallel with the needs that gradually emerged. It’s the result of making sure we never bit more than we could chew». Let’s try to sum up the most interesting elements.

Job rotation. At Camanini’s, there’s no such thing as a strict station division in the style of Escoffier, the father of 20th century fine dining, the man who first told the sous chef from the chef de partie, the maître de cuisine from a chef de rang. «It’s important to me that everyone knows how to do everything: this is why everybody spends a month and a half in every station, from starters to pastry making. This way, in case of emergency, nobody is unprepared and there’s always a stable balance». Of course it’s also a matter of costs: «Surely I can’t afford a 300 thousand euro kitchen: I know well what’s a Ferrari but I’m fine with my Mercedes».

Artisanal cuisine. Behind the pass there’s no trace of timers, probes and roner ovens. «I don’t want anyone to use chronometers when working to assess cooking timings because in this way preparations are standardised: the cooking of the meat must be tested “by touching” it, handling it, and in the same way you need to taste pasta and rice. The absence of chronometers is a very important rule for me because it adds an essential artisanal value to our work».

The chef and his beautiful press, a return to the splendour of Marchesi

The chef and his beautiful press, a return to the splendour of Marchesi

Chefs-waiters. At Lido chefs also walk into the dining room, a trend that has become popular over the last decade, magnified by Nordic cuisine. «This choice was made out of necessity. We first started with only two waiters and were already seating 40 people. They weren’t enough. The advantage is, in this way, cooks can see how the client approaches the dish they cooked themselves, a step ahead of the classic model, a choice that I believe makes you more free and complete. Of course even I would like to have a maître who unveils some extra nuances in the dining room, but we still can’t afford it. I like this interchangeable character so much I’d like every guy in the dining room to spend one month in the kitchen. And, during the same period, the cook should only take care of the dining room, from changing the flowers to ironing the tablecloths».

Finishing the dish in the dining room. After Lopriore, who by no coincidence was also trained by Marchesi, Camanini is also a big an of finishing the dish in front of the guest. While the chef from Como uses tailor made tools, the one from Brescia uses old fashion tools in a contemporary way. We’ve already mentioned the Cacio e pepe pasta extracted from the bladder of a pig in front of the guests. A few weeks ago a very precious silver press also appeared in the dining room: «We’ve started to press blue lobsters from Bretagne and ducks, but soon I would like to try with vegetables too. I love presses because it’s the ultimate artisanal expression of our work. And it brings me back to the days in Erbusco [1994-97]».

The cooks’ director. There’s no maître, it’s true, but there’s a director in the dining room managing the flow of cooks-waiters. «It’s an important figure: he checks the tables in detail – whether there’s always bread and grissini on the table – and that my timing for guest proceeds without glitches. He’s the director who tells us if a guest has special needs, if he’s eating slowly or fast, if he scooped the last of the sauce with the bread, if he’s grumpy or smiling. I want to know everything of everyone».

Mapping the clients. «For this very reason we have 3 briefing sessions with the team each day, at 12.20, 7.20 p.m. and after dinner. At the end of the service I want to know all that happened, table by table. This is why, like at El Bulli with Ferran Adrià or at Apple, every guest has his mini-dossier: what he ate, any dislikes. It’s an important step to ensure customer loyalty, a vital concept for a restaurant like our own».

«Take care of the client as if you were inviting a friend into your home». Camanini adopts Brillat-Savarin’s principle

«Take care of the client as if you were inviting a friend into your home». Camanini adopts Brillat-Savarin’s principle

Sharing recipes. Every nibble or dish served over the past two years and a half was archived in a large database with pictures, exact doses and methods. All the recipes are gradually emailed to cooks and waiters. «In these years I learnt you always need to share, never keep secrets. I left everything at Villa Fiordaliso. Robuchon and Ducasse did the same, always».

The hired staff. Today the team at Lido 84 is formed by 14 people: 9 guys in the kitchen/dining room and 4 in the dining room alone. They’re all hired, except for the latest intern (they often come from Alma). Something rare. «Why hire them all? Because you learn very little in 4 months of internship. We hire but we ask to stay for at least two years. It took me three years to really understand Gualtiero Marchesi. Long stays create more consistence in the kitchen and offer cooks the chance to fully understand what we’re doing».

English and French. All the hired staff must speak foreign languages. English, first of all, and possibly French too. «If they don’t speak French, during the briefings I explain how to present the dishes in French. When Alain Ducasse came here to cook for Gelinaz!, I expected every dish to be explained to him in his language».

Loyalty. All the guys know how much the chef earns and how much money the restaurant makes «Because if I’m fair to my employees, it’s very likely they will be the same with me». This is why the current sous chef at Lido, Marco Tacchetto, a bigwig with a long experience at Fat Duck and Mugaritz, rejected richer proposals so as to stay with Camanini: «When they called me, I didn’t think twice».


Zanattamente buono

Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world