A trip to China with Baldassarre

The chef of Unico, originally from Abruzzo, tells us about his passion for Asia’s most elegant teas

Gnocchi with herbs on cream of potatoes served wit

Gnocchi with herbs on cream of potatoes served with clams and smoked black tea, a dish in the menu of Fabio Baldassarre’s restaurant Unico in Milan, via Achille Papa 20, tel. +39.02.39261025

Restaurant Unico offers an unbeatable view from above. When dining on the 20th floor of the WJC Center and observing Milan, a trip to Shanghai came back to our mind. On this occasion we were sipping some good tea while observing the night skyline together with some oriental friends. That night, together with chef Fabio Baldassarre from Abruzzo, a special compatibility soon arose: «The use of tea in the kitchen is not a novelty as it could have been 15 years ago. There’s been a significant cultural acceleration among chefs. I worked for 4 years as Heinz Beck’s sous chef at La Pergola in Rome. Tea was already considered as an important ingredient».

The book cover

The book cover

The chef’s love for tea successfully appears put into practice in his recent book “Fabio Baldassarre 041 – thoughts, recipes, visions. The roots and dreams of good cuisine” (published by Free Media). The Gnocchi with herbs on potato cream with clams, for instance, are generously enriched with powdered Lapsang Souchong, the Chinese tea smoked with liqueur, a typical process of the Fujian area discovered, by chance, in the Qing era. After the oxidation of the leaves, these are left in contact with the smoke of the precious aromatic wood, so as to confer them a refined aroma with balsamic and woody note.

Tea, as a spice, evokes Asian horizons: this recipe was included in the “Viaggio” (Travel) section because – as stated - «it is meant to evoke China and a journey from the Mediterranean sea to the Far East. You leave and return with the concept of a dish. Or you stay here, but the mind travels on board of an idea. And what is far away gets closer, much closer».

The chef of Unico in Milan

The chef of Unico in Milan

At Unico there still is no such thing as a tea list. Baldassarre, however, does propose some pairings. Pigeon, for instance, is matched with a small glass of tea, fermented with a liquorish stick underlining and accentuating the flavours of the dish. A cup of tea is always at hand in his kitchen: he used it in the mixture of his spaghetti, in Rome, he made a cold drink with elderberry flowers, balsamic vinegar and mint in Mykonos (where he run a restaurant). And he will use it in the list of his new venture in Sicily, restaurant Opson of Hotel Imperiale in Taormina.

How about the next step? «It also comes from ancient times – he explains – I would like to smoke some dishes using tea leaves, putting them in the pots in which I usually put the spices to add a unique aroma. I also imagine to smoke some blue-tailed fish, a mackerel or some prawns». We impatiently wait for this outcome.

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