Leemann, 30 years a vegetarian
All the Swiss chef’s uncomfortable truths. He will be the one to open the eleventh edition of Identità Milano
Pietro Leemann, born 1961, since 1990 the “natural fine dining" chef at restaurant Joia in Milan, one Michelin star since 1996. The chef from Locarno will open the eleventh edition of the Identità Milano congress, on Sunday February 8th, at 10. The lecture will be focused on the advantages of a vegetarian diet, with the preparation of two dishes (photo taken from his facebook profile)
«1961: I was born in Locarno of Ada and Alfredo, teachers and lovers of a good and natural diet». «1967: my classmates had fun hurting small animals, I discovered violence against other animals and fought it». «1980: I was forced to eat gigantic quantities of meat I still haven’t digested». This is how the enlightening timeline of Pietro Leemann scrolls on the website of his restaurant Joia – a thought for every year in his life – that makes it clear why on February 8th the Swiss chef adopted by Milan will open the Identità congress, focused on the theme of A Healthy Intelligence.
On the 1985 line you write: «For the first time I became a vegetarian, I gather this is an evolution in the diet, towards oneself and towards the planet». A very current thought, yet expressed 30 years ago.
Indeed, Ducasse reached the same conclusions much later. The important thing is for this change not to be the result of a trend but of an authentic acknowledgement of what it is right to eat. However, many people today are vegetarians with the same approach of those who, a few years ago, would apply spherifications or would pour liquid nitrogen on the tables. A critical thought. Still, without reflection, nothing can matter.
What are your thoughts today?
Today Scabin, Cracco, Oldani and many of my colleagues are very careful to serve and eat healthier dishes themselves. My philosophy is more radical because I believe there’s a big enemy we need to fight: breeding farms. Animals need do be free, not to become food. This philosophy is based on various bricks: ethics, environmentalism, attention to health.
Some people, however, object that there are “ethical” and “sustainable” breeding farms.
Sotto una coltre colorata [Under a coloured layer] (2006), an emblematic (and much debated) dish by Pietro Leemann
There’s no ethics or sustainability if you first make an animal fat and then you kill it. There’s no compromise: generating sufferance is not necessary, it is always an uncalled for gesture. Which needs to be fought, together with wastes.
What do you mean?
I’m referring to the ‘I am rich therefore I waste’ paradigm, a real plague. The fact I have money should not allow me more luxuries. Gourmet cuisine needs to be morally acceptable, always. We need to eat every part of an asparagus, including the tail. Pleasure should never be linked to food that kills, nor to waste.
A precise admonition.
It is rather an invitation to eat in a careful way and to always think about what one is doing. I’m not blaming anyone. I simply invite people to take the journey of discussion because everything changes: even I began my life as an omnivorous. Everything has changed: we now need to be in charge of our transformation ourselves, it’s not the others who need to reflect for us. We are not oxen, nor should we walk around blindfold. It would make us unhappy.
Everything evolves, so even vegetarianism is not a final dimension.
You never stop learning. For instance, we vegetarians exaggerate in taking proteins. But the quantity which we need, to feel well, is much smaller. The healthy pyramid today urges us to eat lots of fruits, lots of vegetables, some cereals and little fats and sugars. Proteins make the brain’s activity slower. It’s not by chance if many great sports people are vegetarian.
In your timeline, one sentence struck me: «If children learn to eat well today, they will have a more serene life and they will produce a better world».
Serendipity, nel giardino dei miei sogni [Serendipity, in the garden of my dreams] (2008), a very craveable dish (photo by Giovanni Panarotto)
Yes, because what we eat defines our way of acting and our mood. We are born to tend to serenity, not to be unsatisfied. Eating meat, that is to say the result of violence and sufferance, however, makes us suffer too. The satisfaction given by meat is only a question of palate, and therefore a short term one. Vegetarian cuisine has freed itself of the weights that keep people sick and unfulfilled. Pumpkins, asparagus, artichokes and many more ingredients can give infinite pleasure.
This is a truth on which all the greatest chefs in the world now agree. Would you have thought so, 30 years ago.
I wouldn’t have dreamt of this. From a dietary point of view, the world has evolved beyond any initial reasonable hope. In 1990, when we opened the restaurant, we felt we were idealists. Idealists, however, often starve to death. This wasn’t the case and I can only be happy.
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Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world
born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, he's been working as a co-author and coordinator of both Identità Web and Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook for the past 7 years