A chat with Riccardo Camanini: new game-based dishes, the 50Best-triumph, the Michelin-disappointment... And serenity

We talked with the chef from Lido 84, at the end of a rollercoaster of a year, what with the lockdowns and the climb to the top of the world. All the changes in the menu

22-12-2021
by Carlo Passera
Riccardo Camanini at Identità Milano 2021 (pho

Riccardo Camanini at Identità Milano 2021 (photo Brambilla-Serrani)

Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini have been slacking off lately (only kidding...). They are back from under a month of holidays with their Lido 84, which opened again on Saturday 4th of December, confirming two days of closure per week (Tuesday and Wednesday), and closing again after the holidays, from January the 7th to the 11th of February (included). It's so nice to be idle... «In fact one of the things we best understood during the pandemic is that we must makes sure people work more serenely. Hence guarantee that they take their pauses. This is something everyone gets now, don't they?», Riccardo asks us. We nod, he's reasonableness personified.

 

THE ROLLERCOASTER – But this, for sure, is a form of evolution that was also caused by the drama and success of this very weird 2021. «Indeed. A complex year». Fear, uncertainty, and then the laurels, with the 15th place in the 50Best, the constantly fully booked restaurant... «It was a rollercoaster of a year. Luckily the Italian market reacted fantastically, I heard my colleagues restaurateurs and they were rather happy. Then the autumn was rhythmed by the new guides, the lists, and hence even we – like everyone – were there waiting. I wouldn't say with trepidation because I'm not an emotional person for sure, but indeed with some anticipation». It went very well for you, with the 50Best... «I'll be honest: we knew we would be among the 50 best, because we were invited to Antwerp. But we had no idea we would be so high up in the list. What a surprise». What has changed since then? «Even here, to be honest: the restaurant has always been full for four years, so we had already updated the booking software, the answer machine. In other words, there was already a complex system in place to handle reservations. Which have increased a lot since the 50Best, it's true, I won't deny it: reservations, requests of interviews, of photographs. But well, we were somewhat ready. And in this we were also helped by the fact that at the moment only Europeans are moving, there's no incoming from the other continents, penalised by the anti-Covid measures. Hence, all in all, with this partially closed world we could handle everything without any particular anxiety.

 

The booking page for April at Lido 84: it's already full, only waiting lists

The booking page for April at Lido 84: it's already full, only waiting lists

CHANGES – All true. But on average at Lido 84, with a reduced number of 35 guests («Right on the day after the 50Best: two tables less. An excellent choice, we're very satisfied»), there are between 250 and 300 unsuccessful reservations – each day! It's not surprising, if we consider the value for money of the menu... «We were very afraid to retouch the price. In the end we decided to add 5 euros, so we get to 100, with a special menu for 130, which includes game [we'll talk about it later]. Our idea was that basically everyone ordered the tasting menu and then asked us to add other dishes, usually two, hence the final bill was already around that amount. Hence the idea...».

 

THE SECRET OF THEIR SUCCESS – More than sensible. How do you explain this success? «I'd say it depends on a series of factors. First, it's the location that works. People like it very much and are pleased to stay. Plus we're in the right price range: we're in Gardone Riviera, not in Paris or Milan. Besides we offer a cuisine that is currently popular, we're in a historic time that favours our style and not others. I'll also add that we're all committed, there's a group here that works well, peacefully and enthusiastically. We invest on them, since June we launched 24 language courses for our staff, worth 2000 euros each; plus the team is called on each station on rotation, so that they're constantly given stimuli. We make sure that our collaborators take an active part in a shared project, all focused on Lido 84. We don't have other activities, like other establishments».

 

NEW OPENINGS – Speaking of which: have you ever thought of opening new locations? «I can say I've received plenty of offers, especially from abroad, and even from very, very prestigious chefs, who offered collaborations. Some offers were "embarrassing" so to speak», in the sense that they were quite remarkable. But... «But until now we have always said no: what should I do, get on a plane to New York every month? There's an aspect however that has made us think and we will consider it in the future: over the years we have lost some good collaborators because at Lido 84 they had already changed all the stations and we had nothing else to offer in terms of growth. This makes us think that opening something new could be a good option, to "safeguard" some talent». But this won't happen in the short term: «For now we still haven't thought about it seriously: it's been seven years at Lido 84, six not counting Covid. There's still so much to build, we're in a stage of development, the commitment is still focused entirely on Garda. One day, perhaps».

 

Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini at the 50Best

Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini at the 50Best

HOW TO CLIMB THE 50BEST- A question worth a million dollars: how do you conquer the 15th place in the World's 50Best? «It's an algorithm, you know. I think there was a group of votes that concentrated on us, perhaps by chance, because we received many visits in 2019, in other words because many people decided to come. But you need to be good to keep this prestige, we're aware of this. You can easily move up and down». Ok, ok, but the answer is not enough. It cannot only be by chance. «True. I'll add now: indeed, we've worked hard abroad, participating in many events and culinary congresses where they invited us. The "closeness" of some foreign chefs had an important impact too». What do you mean? «I read in your article on Identità from the other day, the one on "volcanic cuisine", and got curious. In the same way, if you or other publications write about Lido 84, you will probably stimulate the interest of food lovers and chefs, even from abroad. It's for this reason that I started to collaborate with famous colleagues like Gaggan Anand in Bangkok, Zaiyu Hasegawa at Den in Tokyo, Quintonil's Jorge Vallejo in Mexico... These invitations coming from chefs who are much more famous than us help us, obviously: they give us great visibility. We were favoured by their media impact».

 

THE MICHELIN GUIDE – It's still a sore spot: they didn't get new laurels from the Michelin Guide... «We accepted it: you know us a little, we're not anxious people. Of course, we always watch the award ceremony when it goes live, I'm very happy for Giuseppe Iannotti, I sent my congratulations to the newly starred La Speranzina (read here), also here on Lake Garda. I had worked with its chef Fabrizio Molteni in the days of Gualtiero Marchesi. In general, I've been working in this industry for thirty years and so the Michelin Guide is part of my habit, I've seen plenty, I remember that time when people waited for the third star for Gianfranco Vissani, or Fulvio Pierangelini, or Giancarlo Perbellini. I confess I am very fascinated by the Michelin Guide, this is also because in the past there was the Red Guide and nothing else. Even today it's a guide with 120 years of history, do you get what I mean? So I think that they probably understood us more than we did ourselves, if they didn't give us the second star. It will come, if we will deserve it, and we will be very happy. But we've always worked hard, we do our best; I'm not questioning myself and asking myself the reasons behind this lack of promotion. We go on, we do our part. And if tomorrow they will decide we're worth it... We only focus on doing our best, always».

 

THE NEWS – Rooted in their journey. Which, as we mentioned, with the new menu includes some very interesting news. «Since we reopened, and excluding the "classic" offer, all the dishes are new». And they introduced game: «For me this was a cause of satisfaction, and I'm having fun too. Two weeks before our autumn closure, we focused on mushrooms, even though this year wasn't the best. I believe the new menu is very pleasant. When I was working at Villa Fiordaliso I never worked in December, while I prepared the hare à la royale at Marchesi's. And so this year I wanted to go back to game (all from the Apennines, and certified. Nothing frozen from other continents), France taught me a lot in terms of sauces, fonds, and different interpretations».

 

THE NEW DISHES WITH GAME – Here is the new offer. «1) Venison, in one interpretation, as a main course, with fantastic aromas of vermouth and purple cardamom. 2) Duck, in two versions: one with clementines, carrot, fermented elderberry juice and pumpkin oil; the other with the leg candied in duck fat and then friend and paired with fried rice and a fond of game; 3) Hare in two versions, royale – it's a great pleasure to make, you need three days and lots of attention to detail – with complex extreme flavours that include Armagnac, white truffle, foie gras, lard, pork loin, blood; and the other version thickened with collagen, with reduced Marsala and aromatised with squid liver, an element that recalls iron, and the hare that is more similar to Italian salmì. 4) There's also partridge with blueberry vinegar and a sauce of guinea fowl liver (which the French call foie blond de pintade, because they consider this liver as precious as foie gras, but it's a rather yellow sauce, hence the name "foie blond", very sweet. 5) Finally small wild boars, weighing 40-60 kg, hence rather young, also in two versions. One with a sauce of Port and chargrilled Jerusalem artichokes finished in duck fat; the second with a rare, chargrilled pork shoulder in a broth of dry mushrooms and caviar, rather unusual, it recalls shabu shabu».

 

Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini

Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini

THE MENUS – Five animals, eight recipes, as we saw. Without a specific menu, «we do it based on the client's requests. So now we offer a first tasting menu, the classic Oscillazioni, with seven courses, with some signature dishes like Spaghettone, butter, brewer's yeast; and then Rice, black garlic, red fruits; and then Veal sweetbreads, raw carrots in saor, punch and Squid caught with a nassa, smoked eel butter, Jerusalem artichoke. And so on. Then two more Oscillazioni menus, with seven or nine courses, with new dishes, in the latter case including a couple of tastings of game. And finally there are always some evergreen recipes. There are all the dishes for those who are allergic. I don't know exactly how many, but they told me that only among the first courses there are 19 options!» [including a new risotto, with pigeon ham and guinea fowl liver].

 

THE STAFF - Before the pandemic Lido 84 lost its maître, Manuele Menghini [now with Alfio Ghezzi at Ealaread here] replaced by Jonathan Gillet, «he was at Bon Bon in Brussels, we immediately sent him to Italian classes». Other than that, nobody left, the team is solid, «they're all confirmed also for 2022. We didn't have big changes. It shows the enthusiasm. And, with the laurels, we feel even more responsible towards our guests, because the expectations have grown». The total staff at Lido 84 is incredibly small, given the "weight" of the place: on top of Riccardo and Giancarlo, there are 12 cooks, 2 kitchen hands, 3 secretaries, 5 waiters. «In other words, 24 people. All hired, except for the interns, whom we also pay however».

 

UPCOMING VISITS– We knew that when on holiday, the Camaninis always visit a wellness centre in the south of Spain, for a restful swim, massages, relax. Not this year: «No Spain, no geothermal cures. In the twenty days of holidays we mostly stayed at home. We did go on some food trips: we visited Andreas Caminada in Switzerland, for instance, or Diego Guerrero's DStage in Spain, or David Muñoz's StreetXo». He «surprised me very much. He's a very kind man, he dined here two years ago». There were no tables at DiverXo, his top restaurant, «but we have already booked for January. Then we'll visit ExtebarriElkano and Azurmendi. And then Mexico».

 

2022 – And what about 2022? «I hope to pass it serenely. We're all a little harmed, we need to return to a real understanding of the human being. The business is going well, I'm almost 50: what more should I want? This: I'd like to spend some quality time with others».

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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