Building a New Future: Work. Matias Perdomo and Simon Press sign the emblem dish at Identità Milano

"This is no game, it's work": the dessert born over 10 years ago, which the chefs from Contraste now see with new meanings, thanks to the theme of the 16th edition of our congress

by Niccolò Vecchia
The emblem dish of the 16th edition of Identità M

The emblem dish of the 16th edition of Identità Milano: This is no game, it's work by Matias Perdomo and Simon Press, chefs at restaurant Contraste in Milan. All photos from Brambilla-Serrani

Our most faithful and careful readers might have already noticed it: perhaps on our social media accounts (you do follow them, right? FacebookInstagramTwitter...), or in the article in which we gave a preview of the programme of the 16th edition of the  Identità Milano congress, from the 25th to the 27th September 2021 at MiCo in Milan (here the details: The countdown to Identità Milano 2021 has begun. Here's the programme).  Here is now the emblem dish of Identità MilanoThis is no game, it's work by Matias Perdomo and Simon Press, the two chefs at Contraste in Milan. 

It's now a set habit at Identità Golose to choose a dish that represents the spirit of each congress: the first time was in 2007, for the 3rd edition of the Congress. For those curious to find out all the dishes, you can find the answer here: All the emblem dishes at Identità Milano, in 14 memorable photos. For this 16th edition the process was, as you can imagine, much bouncier than usual: indeed, we had already presented two more emblem dishes, two versions for this 16th edition that Covid decided to boycott, while it put the world to its knees. 

Corrado Assenza's Cassata 

Corrado Assenza's Cassata 

In November 2019 we presented  Corrado Assenza's Cassata which was to interpret the theme of the Sense of Responsibility: «And who better than Corrado Assenza? - Paolo Marchi wrote at the time – He's certainly not the only one to be always aware of the responsibility towards each facet of his profession, but his creed embraces much more than the horizon of Noto. And his cassata is the sublimation of a millennial tradition, made current through a thorough knowledge of history, of raw materials, of contemporary nutritional and tasty aspects». 

Chargrilled rib in broth by Riccardo Camanini

Chargrilled rib in broth by Riccardo Camanini

Then, in July 2020, with a different theme in mind, Building a New Future, we chose Riccardo Camanini and his Rib steak in broth: «Identità Milano 2020 – again quoting Marchi – wants to give a strong contribution to tracing the future lines that will address the crisis and this led us to choose a different emblem dish, a well-grounded recipe but new, projected into the future to give it a new shape. Here is the Rib steak in broth by Riccardo Camanini of Lido 84 in Gardone Riviera». 

While the clouds of the pandemic seem to clear, thanks to vaccines, we look now at the new dates of the 16th edition of the congress with new hope, and trust: the event will have as its theme Building a New Future: Work. «If we don't first solve this dramatic problem, if we don't give back to women the professional dignity they lost with the crisis, if young people will continue lingering in this economic limbo, it will be pointless to speak of what food will be like after the pandemic, if people will prefer innovation or tradition, gourmet pizzas or pizza margherita, plated desserts or a slice of cake, fish, meat or vegetables, gourmet gelato or classic flavours, always the same. And what wine to choose, and what service, at the restaurant as well as in hotels. Work comes first!». 

Matias Perdomo and Simon Press

Matias Perdomo and Simon Press

With this new theme in mind for the event to open in little under two months, the need has come to find a dish that could represent it. And it's the creator and curator of Identità Paolo Marchi who'll explain how he thought of a dessert created by Perdomo and Press: «It was really hard to find a dish that could represent the new edition of Identità Milano, the work that pandemic has compromised in so many industries. Among the ones hit harder, that of restaurants, so much so that we're still very distant from the employment levels before the spring of 2020. The answer arrived from Matias Perdomo and Simon Press with their sweet construction of Lego bricks. With a thought: this 16th edition, hit by the pandemic, has already led us to find three separate dishes. And it was never easy, not as it was once, when the only worry was to find something good and that would look good in a photo, without the social and economic complications influencing the choice». 

In the backstage of the shooting, which as always is handed to Francesca Brambilla and Serena Serrani, we chatted with Matias Perdomo about this dish, its story and meanings, which have changed from when it was first created, and now that it has become the emblem dish of Identità Milano number 16. 

«We were very surprised and happy of this choice», he said first, smiling with Simon Press who was preparing the dessert for the shooting. «This dish was born many years ago, maybe 12, when we were still at Pont de Ferr [where they ran the kitchen for 14 years, conquering a Michelin star]. At the time we had started to experiment with silicon, in a totally self-trained way. We wanted to shape a concept that was both food-related and figurative. We wanted to leave our comfort zone. We would buy cans of silicon to create moulds with which to make this idea concrete, without knowing well how to do it, making mistakes and trying again. Until we got this idea of the Lego bricks, which weren't too difficult to make with our moulds, and they allowed us to give a playful and childish spirit to the dish». 

A dessert made to go back to being children: «Once we had the initial idea, we made it thinking of the flavours a child would pick. Hence dulce de leche, nutella, milk and mint, strawberries and cream, without a specific order. If you let a child inside a sweet shop, they won't think of the balance of flavours, but will pick a bit of everything, following their instinct. This is what we did too, and this is why we could say this dessert is technically " wrong". Almost all our desserts are, because we're not pastry-chefs, we don't build a cake with the structure and precision of a pastry chef. But in this case it was was of little importance: the task of this dessert was to bring back people to a childhood, playful and delicious atmosphere in a matter of seconds. This was one of the things I like doing with this dish: creating something that goes beyond flavours, that makes this dish successful because it's striking, it communicates something, overcoming the simple assessment of goodness».

Today, however, this childhood and playful atmosphere turns into something else: «I often think of this, and I get this idea of making a parallel with music. Think of how sad it would be if every time a singer wrote a song, he had to explain what his words meant: many people would no longer have the possibility of feeling represented by that song, of feeling it their own. The same goes with our dishes: we start from an idea, from a memory of flavours that we want to recreate. But then the dish will continue to live if people will interpret it in their own way. So today the game of that dessert becomes more serious. Those bricks and characters are an emblem of the future we must rebuild together, without losing the fun, but with a common goal that has work at its heart».

But do Matias Perdomo and Simon Press, in their work, have fun like they used to, like when they first imagined This is not a game? «It's not the same – laughs Perdomo – a lot has changed. We have different responsibilities compared to those of a chef who works for 12 hours per day in a restaurant they don't own, we have many more things to think about, which is also due to the many projects we've launched: first Exit, then ROC, and then Empanadas del Flaco, and finally the latest born Exit Pastificio Urbano. This is work too: now it's much harder to focus only on cooking, on creativity, which need time and lightness. What we've been doing for a while is to force us, even though it's a pleasant thing, to dedicate one or two days per month to creativity. We do so on our closing day, leaving everything else aside. But if we think of creativity, I believe it's crucial to do something, to build a new future for gastronomy built on work...».

What thing? Perdomo tells us with great conviction: «Sharing your thoughts, your needs and those of your business, with the team. Sitting with them, with the younger members, making them part of what we're doing. On a human level this year and a half has been harmful: you see guys looking at you as if they were expecting you to give them the answer, as if they were asking you if they made the right choice with this career. We must make sure that they believe in this new goal, and to do so we must give them space. It's not easy, because it means we must take a step back and question what we've built over twenty years. But this step behind is crucial: today, if I talk of new ideas with the young people who could be my children, they talk to me of fermentations, of mould, and my first reaction is of loss, because those things don't represent me. I have worked for twenty years to reach the level I've reached, should I question myself? Yes, I should. I must give them space to leave my comfort zone, but with their ideas».

«It's not easy - Perdomo says – it's hard work but very important. We must focus more on the young, so they become the engine of our creativity. If we leave them space, they will defend the dishes they will create, they will defend the team because they won't feel they're working for someone, but for themselves. I believe this is the only way to give a future to gastronomy: make these young people feel they're not working for Carlo Cracco, Massimiliano Alajmo or Matias Perdomo, but for themselves, doing what they've chosen to do themselves. Let's put them in the condition of expressing themselves. This will help us too, it will force us to question ourselves, we will be able to look at our roles under a new, deeper light ».

Perdomo and Press, with many things to say, will be on the stage of Identità Milano on Sunday 26th September, at 11.30, a new section of the congress called “The Future is today” in sala Blu 1: «These days we're thinking of what we will say from that stage. We want to go beyond the simple presentation of a dish, the explanation of its creation. Perhaps it's no longer the time to focus only on this». We await that lesson, hosted at the congress to whose 16th edition Matias and Simon have given the emblem, with great curiosity and interest. 

Translated by Slawka G. Scarso