Catia and Mauro Uliassi: an affectionate embrace and the flavour of memories

Brother and sister on the stage of Identità Milano: dining room and kitchen, in a touching unison

by Sonia Gioia
Catia and Mauro Uliassi on the stage of Identi

Catia and Mauro Uliassi on the stage of Identità Milano 2019 (all the photos are from Brambilla-Serrani)

The audience was murmuring, there was an atmosphere of suspense charged with electricity, while waiting for the two siblings from Senigallia, who have just reached the top of the firmament of triumphant chefs. And when the moment came, the embrace between Catia and Mauro Uliassi melted the coldest hearts – the people for whom Identità Milano is a dive into a long selfie, with or without stick, a showing-off of gourmet muscles, a presumptuous journey in the beau monde of master chefs. In that grip of affection between chef-brother and dining-room-sister, every tension melted, on and below the stage, at least for a while. For sure Catia’s voice was broken, from the first to the last word. While Mauro, so as to pretend he was ok, held his lectio magistralis at the super speed of someone who’s fighting with emotions that are impossible to tame.

They both faced this new Oscars-night with their own strategy, and it’s understandable: the audience crowding the auditorium of Identità would make even Roberto Bolle’s knees tremble. She relied on the few lines she wrote on a piece of paper crumbled in her hands: the crowning of 29 years of work, spent for three quarters of each day blending private and professional life; dining room and kitchen in unison; the display of affection from our friends; a proof of love that truly touched us; we’re celebrating the result today. And then the escape to the corner further away from the spotlight.

Catia Uliassi, to the right, and hostess Lisa Casali

Catia Uliassi, to the right, and hostess Lisa Casali

Mauro Uliassi, instead, found refuge in his space of freedom, in the comfort zone where a chef can once again be himself, in the kitchen. Using the familiar language of pots and pans, the chef who brought the Marche to the top of the international gourmet scene, regained his place. «Cooking is all about human factor and memory – paraphrasing the theme of edition 2019, Building new memories – In his gestures a chef presents his personal story, his subjectivity. But in that subjectivity, all the know-how of the artisans who preceded him have decanted, a collective cultural legacy, a heritage that draws from everyone’s memories. Cooking is therefore a matter of bringing up to date the gestures that were passed on to us, from our parents and masters, whether we were aware of it or not», but even from «a tutorial on Youtube», here, he said it.

Mauro Uliassi

Mauro Uliassi

When speaking of cooking, there’s another sort of memory too, that stimulates the synapses, as intimate as a flower in your mouth: taste. And that’s where the subjectivity of the people eating comes into play. «Palate and nose, our most essential senses in this thought, reach a depth that can evoke passions and feelings, they can activate a journey of awareness and memories that come from afar, associating them with the pleasure of something new and unknown, which is the creative input of the chef». In other words, if in a new dish the cook can evoke a dormant memory in the mind of the eater, and at the same time surprise him with a new adventure of taste, well that’s a dish! A dish destined to survive the terrestrial journey of a cook. Take a handful of Riso, Oro e Zafferano. A Passatina di ceci. A Gratin di maccheroni. An Insalata 21, 31, 51… or a Cookpot di verdure e frutti autunnali.

The road to build new memories, in Mauro Uliassi’s experience, is to be found in the few hundred square metres that from the inland of the Marche move to the Adriatic coast, from the deep sea to the land where the nets of creativity capture the memories of farmers and fishermen, and the pungent taste of hunger sharpens the wits and uncovers the taste of fish offal, fish fermentation, of jus made from the heads of crustaceans, sauces made with crests from the farmyard, the oxidized blood of game. And starting from here, Uliassi starts this adventure «without a precise destination, offering free interpretations», a work of coring to extract «the emotions that only food can give».

These thoughts resulted in three recipes that are ready to enter the 2019 menu, a preview of which was given at IGmi19. Starting with Panbollito di agnello con agnello fuori di testa. The initial input for this dish was a memory both very personal and collective: «I was only slightly older than a child when I went hunting with my dad. We stopped to eat lamb from the Monti Sibillini. It had an intense flavour of barn, like wether and head. The farmers dish they served us was a dry bread, soaked in mutton broth, seasoned with a sauce of lamb and baked as if it were a casserole, lasagne. This was our inspiration».

Panbollito di agnello con agnello fuori di testa

Panbollito di agnello con agnello fuori di testa

The new creature at Uliassi’s speaks of bread («made by Francesca, an excellent baker, also crazy, who left her old job to make the extraordinarily good bread we serve in our restaurant»), lamb head, pecorino, burnt bay leaf oil and timut oil, a triple broth of mutton and a lamb fond. «The true flavour of the mutton can be found in its fat. The lamb fond is made with the shoulder, with the parts that are richer in collagen: we understood that they convey the true flavour. And then there’s the head, to which we add lard, wrapped in tin foil and then cooked at 80°C. Brain, eye, tongue, belly, with a great aroma of Mediterranean herbs like thyme, marjoram, wild thyme and mint». The lamb, of course, is free range: the ewes whose milk they drink, only eat grass, following ancient customs. They’re not fed with animal feed that gives a more stable taste to the meat, making its flavour more tamed and shapeless.

The same applies to the Anguilla affumicata agli agrumi e conditella. The idea is the same as per the lamb, offering an ingredient that has disappeared, to recuperate which Mauro Uliassi drew from the memories of Mariagrazia Soncini, chef at La Capanna di Eraclio in the valleys of Comacchio. «She told me all she knew. I’m very grateful». Or Ossobuco alla marinara, starting from the intuition that «the collagen of the ossobuco can be similar to that of cod tripe». Strong ideas, wiping out commonplaces and a jump into memories polished for the future.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


IG2019: costruire nuove memorie