Corrado Assenza: my days with the troupe of Netflix

As of today, the much awaited episode of Chef's Table dedicated to the great Sicilian pastry maker is online. Noto under the spotlight

13-04-2018

Corrado Assenza with the American troupe of "Chef's Table", last June. Their visit resulted in a 45-minute film, available on Netflix as of today

«When you go inside an ice cream shop and see tubs with mountains of ice cream with fruit or chocolate on top, turn around: that’s not real gelato. Go to Corrado instead. This is what gelato is about». The episode of Chef’s Table on Corrado Assenza starts with a declaration of love by American writer Faith Willinger. It is online as of today, for Netflix subscribers.

It’s an important moment because the Sicilian pastry chef is the second Italian to be featured in this series that today debuts with its third season, entirely dedicated to pastry chefs (together with Assenza there are episodes with Will Goldfarb, Jordi Roca and Christina Tosi). An incredible showcase if we think that Massimo Bottura’s episode, launching the first series, has been viewed 25 million times all around the world to this day.

At last Assenza too has a global audience, the audience he deserves. Because, as his friend and colleague Massimiliano Alajmo explains, in his cameo, «Corrado has done so much for Sicily and Italy it’s incredible. He has no interest in spotlights. He’s never been a prophet at home. He just wants to promote the work of artisans and their ingredients. His knowledge is endless». We won’t spoil more details on the episode. But we asked Assenza to tell us about the behind the scenes.

Corado Assenza, Caffè Sicilia, Noto (Siracusa)

Corado Assenza, Caffè Sicilia, Noto (Siracusa)

During the episode, a contribution made by his friend Massimiliano Alajmo, chef at Le Calandre in Rubano (Padua)

During the episode, a contribution made by his friend Massimiliano Alajmo, chef at Le Calandre in Rubano (Padua)

How did this story first start?
Faith Willinger, a dear friend, first directed the American producers to Caffè Sicilia. At the time I knew little of Chef’s Table because I don’t watch a lot of television. There was a long exchange of very measured emails. I watched the episodes with Massimo [Bottura] and Alex Atala. I made my decision, and we organised a visit.

When did they film?
The Italian production paid a first visit exactly one year ago. They wanted to become familiar with the places, understand what equipment they’d need. The American troupe, some 15 people, arrived in June. The day of the arrival they sat at Caffè’s table to eat, without introducing themselves. I did notice them, but I let them be. Then they called me. First, they wanted to understand, without being conditioned. There were only ruins left at the table. They stayed two weeks.

Hard days?
Very hard. We’d start filming at 7 a.m. and spent all day in front of the camera. They’d set the lights and the set following a very strict schedule, which was also respectful of union agreements as for the troupe. They’re great professionals, they take care of everything in a special way.

How so?
The camera operator has at least 4 people around him completing his work. They must wear metal harnesses, rather heavy. They were moving like this, in tiny spaces, in a terrible heat. They’re very close-knit and trust each other greatly. They work very hard to create beauty.

Assenza with director Brian McGinn on Etna

Assenza with director Brian McGinn on Etna

During the episode, some photos from Corrado’s youth

During the episode, some photos from Corrado’s youth

Where did you film?
Among the places and delicacies of my land, Val di Noto. We went on Etna to learn about honey, pistachio, black mulberries. We tasted sheep’s milk ricotta from Franzo Spada, which I use for my cannoli. Lemons from Paolo Carpino, from which I make granitas and jams. We visited the Avola family for olive trees and Furgentini oil. The Blanco brothers for wheat. Caudillo for his pistachio, for my pistachio sorbet and torrone.

Besides working, did the troupe taste too?
Oh yes, they did! During the episode there’s a nice shot of a mountain of cannoli. I made some twenty or so. They finished them in just a few minutes. Not to mention the granita and gelato they ate. 

What do you think of the result?
I’m honoured because it gives a good representation of my territory and our work. The editing is a work of art, always trying to find a balance between substance and appeal for the audience.

Were there any painful cuts?
Yes. Just think that they had to compress over 100 hours of filming into a 45-minute documentary. Only a few fragments of the day spent at Catania’s fish market are left. Also in Catania, there’s no trace of Parisi, a café/bar close to the airport that I love. They make basic cakes: arancini, cartocciate…  They open at 5 a.m., they’re mad. During the filming, the patron came up with the idea of making plenty of coffee for the cameras. He asked me many times when the episode will launch. How will he take it, when I tell him he won’t be in it?

The cannoli shown during the filming? Scarfed down by the troupe

The cannoli shown during the filming? Scarfed down by the troupe

Pleased faces

Pleased faces

How did it end with the troupe?
They had a very early flight back. I made them hot croissants for breakfast. Before leaving, Brian McGinn [the same director of the acclaimed Netflix documentary on Amanda Knox] looked at me and said: ‘we could stay here two more weeks, and I’m sure you’d keep on offering us always something new and delicious'.

We saw him often posting on his Instagram profile, he was enthusiastic.
He’s a special person. I realised they had gone when I suddenly noticed I was no longer being followed or filmed by someone. At last, I thought, I can go back to my life.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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