Assenza and Alajmo: the truths of craftsmen

The deepest Sicily, the memory of Gianni Frasi. The dense lecture with the pastry chef from Noto and the cook from Padua

29-09-2021
Stefania, wife of the late coffee roaster Gianni F

Stefania, wife of the late coffee roaster Gianni Frasi, Massimiliano Alajmo and Corrado Assenza at Identità Milano 2021 on Sunday morning. Photo Brambilla/Serrani

The first thing you think when you see them on stage, one next to the other is: look at them. One is the pastry chef from Noto, short and dishevelled, white-haired like a line from Petrarca. The other, the three-starred chef from Sermeola di Rubano, is tall and thin like a comic strip from Paz. Two different profiles stand out in the auditorium, looking even a bit funny, so close to one another.

But you don't need to know the background of each other to guess the relationship between Corrado Assenza and Massimiliano Alajmo. It's a match of looks. They walk towards each other; hug one another with the contained abandonment of manly embraces. Their gestures confirm their familiarity, their elemental need to be close, both having participated in the difficult tribute to the late Andrea Paternoster, the shepherd of bees from Mieli Thun. Alajmo: I'm a cook, he's a pastry chef. Assenza: is there a difference? Alajmo: no, there's not. The gestures become words that bounce with complicity. They smile at each other.

Then Assenza comes up with a “I candy and I scan”. The calembour lifts the heavy hearts in the audience from the previous tribute. But it's only a moment of truce. The theme of the congress, for the first time emancipated from its primary function, is work. The two give two different approaches. Assenza: taste is inside people. Alajmo: we find great truths inside artisans, and from that moment on the dialogues develops in the first of two solos, Alajmo takes a step back and leaves the scene to the maestro from Noto. And then vice versa.

Massimiliano Alajmo, Le Calandre, Rubano (Padova)

Massimiliano Alajmo, Le Calandre, Rubano (Padova)

Corrado Assenza, Caffè Sicilia, Noto (Siracusa)

Corrado Assenza, Caffè Sicilia, Noto (Siracusa)

A female voice in the background reads a letter. It was written by a photographer to Assenza, asking him if she can point at him the camera, a mission of peace. Almonds, fields, landscapes, people, the entire behind-the-scenes of Caffè Sicilia, all included. The voice enunciates the answer of Assenza. And so on, reading out the entire dialogue between the young woman and the pastry chef who finally asks a good reason to open his home. She has good words to convince him. Assenza agrees. And offers this stranger the coordinates of a journey with many stops.

Then images appear with the voice of Franco Battiato singing "La Cura". Sicilians from Sicily. Strong and rough, immaculate and primitive. All of Sicily is seen through the eyes of Letizia Mion, and presented by director Francesco Di Martino in a stream of consciousness of frames. All of Sicily is revealed by Corrado Assenza, in the faces, the animals, the landscapes, the products, the arms, the hands, the eyes, the places behind and inside Caffè Sicilia. The citrus fruits, the land, the milk, the almonds. The substance itself of a coffee from the South, of a pastry making star who has charmed millions of people through Netflix, in a star episode of the series Chef’s table.

A place capable of upturning the routes, bringing the mountain to Mohammed. That is to say the world inside the little old café, to conquer a cassatina, a cannolo, a tomato and strawberry granita. Only to discover that the same Caffè is an underground presidium where Italian cuisine avantgarde is made. Made with facts and sweets. Not just words. Perhaps with Spaghetti cooked in a broth of wheat hay, the peak of a lesson wrapped around the heart like pasta around a fork.

The truth inside artisans. Massimiliano Alajmo continues with the theme, separating the weeds from the wheat, work from profession. He speaks of maestri and workforce. Of all the stories that can be told in front or behind a coffee. For sure Gianni Frasi knew all these stories and told them with the voice of a bluesman with a vocation for coffee roasting. “One of my dearest friends. I've discussed this ingredient so often and in depth with him. I continue this experience with Simone Fumagalli who has taken over Giamaica Caffè”. Now.

Risotto with coffee and capers from Pantelleria, Massimiliano Alajmo

Risotto with coffee and capers from PantelleriaMassimiliano Alajmo

Gabriele Zanatta, Corrado Assenza, Massimiliano Alajmo, Paolo Marchi

Gabriele Zanatta, Corrado Assenza, Massimiliano Alajmo, Paolo Marchi

Alajmo's specialty is a sort of force by subtraction, that of removing weight from matter, channelling it not only through the states of matter itself, but from one world to the next. A language that must have come easy to someone who saw the gold of the “Celestial Jerusalem” on the surface of a coffee cup, and “the darkness” at the bottom of it. It is a 7-day journey from Paradise to Hell, that's how long Dante's comedy lasts. To extract the soul from coffee and turn it into a spirit, instead, only 4 hours are necessary, but this is only after years of study, discussions, experiments between the cook from Le Calandre and the roaster from Giamaca. Four hours is the timeline of an endeavour that seemed “almost impossible” and instead Massimiliano Alajmo made it. A tribute to his artisan friend, which took the shape of white rice cooked in spirit, the first point of a legendary Risotto with coffee and capers from Pantelleria.

Fragments of humanity candied and scanned between a coffee bean and a rice grain.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso