Cheese is life

Cristina Bowerman, Andrea Aprea, Franco Pepe. An ode to this dairy product, essential across the menu

by Sonia Gioia
Franco Pepe, Pepe in grani, Caiazzo (Caserta), st

Franco PepePepe in grani, Caiazzo (Caserta), star of the day at Identità Formaggio. He’ll be back on Monday 5th March in Sala Blu 2, for Identità di pizza, at 5.30 pm (photo Brambilla/Serrani)

For Cristina Bowerman cheese is a “matter of survival”. Andrea Aprea confesses “he lives on cheese”. As for Franco Pepe, for him cheese is something more: it’s a consubstantial matter in the job of a pizzaiolo. Three chefs at work on different fronts and borders, three visions but the same acknowledgement of the central role of one of the most important ingredients in the great Italian cuisine, so much so it deserved a session by itself in the 14th edition of Identità Milano.

Half of the emblem of the 2018 edition of the congress is indeed made by Franco Pepe. The other half, by Renato Bosco. A choice of image? A political choice, mostly, if politics are intended as a vision that can change the world. And in the food world, pizza has now a central role thanks to pizzaioli such as Franco Pepe. By the way, this is the year when the art of the pizzaiolo – not pizza itself, attention please – has been acknowledged as a world heritage by Unesco. So basically they’ve given a central role to the Human Factor. It all fits.

The pizza-icon of the congress signed by the master from Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo (Caserta) was born in Montegrosso, in the province of Andria. Pepe was eating with Pietro Zito, farmer-chef from Antichi Sapori who had served him pasta with tomato and basil. What are you going to do with the sauce left? Are you going to leave it on the plate? Of course not. You can scoop it with some bread [a gesture called scarpetta, in Italian]. That’s how Pizza scarpetta was born. “Giving an essential role to men, in my opinion, is about creating a sound and constant relationship with chefs as well as with producers. With my chef-friends I translate Italian recipes into the world of pizza; with producers I can understand more about the origins of a great cheese like Grana Padano, for instance”.

Niccolò Vecchia presented Identità di Formaggio

Niccolò Vecchia presented Identità di Formaggio

Grana pepe e fantasia is a pizza that represents both concepts. He made it on the spot for the audience in Sala Blu. A work he conceived with Nino di Costanzo, chef at Danì Maison. A very complex and substantial pizza, and made in three stages. First they spread a cream of Grana Padano matured 12 months on the dough, with smoked buffalo milk, then off to the oven. When it’s half cooked, they pull out the pizza, and brush oil on the edges adding some more cream, this time made with a stronger Grana Padano matured 24 months. Then again in the oven and after that they complete the topping with egg yolk, fried bacon, pepper, chips of grana and lime zest.

The audience is thrilled. Pepe said “I watched as they made Grana in a high-tech dairy factory: 160-180 pieces per day. But it was the action of the dairy producer, the moment in which the curdle is broken, that literally gives shape to the product. Giving identity to a product is something human”. Culinary trivia fact: at Pepe’s, Sundays are special. At lunchtime they serve a tasting menu with 13 pizzas, served on a sort of “social table” for eight people. “For those who want to have a good pizza and think about it”.

Cristina Bowerman, Glass Hostaria and Romeo in Rome

Cristina BowermanGlass Hostaria and Romeo in Rome

Human factor and cheese. It’s like Linus and his blanket, ice cream and a cone. They’re essential to each other, two hemispheres of the same planet. As pointed out by chef Cristina Bowerman. International experience, born in Apulia, now at work in Rome. The chef from Glass Hostaria and Romeo, president of the Ambasciatori del gusto, talked about the Human Factor focusing on the relationship between chef and brigade. “One should remove chefs from their egotist central role, and make them pass the baton to their collaborators”, that’s the point according to Bowerman. “We must learn when the moment has come for collaborators to make their leap, when they’re mature enough for a new role”.

Sous chef Edoardo Fortunato shared the stage at MiCo with the chef and is also about to become the supervisor of the Bowerman planet. “Edo trained at Gambero Rosso, we’ve been working together for 6 years. With these guys I do just what I learnt from David Bull. During a chaotic service he whispered in my ear: could you please find me some celery leaves? Despite the turmoil he said please. That’s the heart of the subject. My liaison with my brigade is based on hard work, and human relations too”.

This is the secret ingredient on which the two dishes she presented for this cheese-focus are based. The first one was conceived for the occasion and called “Cinque C”, that is to say: Caciocavallo (a cheese full of character made in Apulia), cauliflower, capesante [scallops], coral, caviar. Soon in the menu at Glass in Trastevere. Second act, Gnocchetti with turnip tops in a consommé of Grana Padano. While we cannot say the cuisine of Cristina Bowerman is affected by traditional Apulian recipes, one must say that she uses plenty of Apulian products, thus leading traditional recipes to a contemporary universe.

Andrea Aprea

Andrea Aprea

This style is a mission for Andrea Aprea. The chef from Vun, with a brand new second Michelin star, has accepted the responsibility of giving new life to recipes that have made the history of Italian cuisine. A mission in which all his brigade joined him, naturally. “The human factor is crucial in every profession, obviously, but most of all in this profession where you can do very little by yourself. The brigade at Vun is a team, a family. Our cuisine is the expression of a collective willpower”.

The route is already set by Aprea’s signature dishes (spherified mozzarella and octopus alla diavola!), that is to say two super-traditional dishes ready to look in the distant future. His Potato wrapped in “foil”... with amatriciana, also follows this concept. It will soon enter the menu at Vun and he presented it as a preview for Identità Golose. It’s an Amatriciana reduced to a silky texture, on top of an emulsion of semi-mature Pecorino Romano which covers a stewed onion.

On the side, a potato in fake foil (in fact, it’s a precious silver leaf) and satureja. Voilà, here’s the amatriciana of the future. “When you work with a dish for which you know guests have a specific and recognisable point of reference, the going gets tough. Guests have a memory they can compare against your dish, and it becomes tricky for the chef. And this is a risk we at Vun like a lot”.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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