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Antonia Klugmann: the importance of execution

In her talk on the theme of work, the chef from Argine a Vencò focused on a crucial element of a dish, which influences the creative process and gives value to the team

Antonia Klugmann on the stage of Identità Milano

Antonia Klugmann on the stage of Identità Milano 2021 with Paolo Marchi and Lodovica Bo, who presented her lesson (all the photos are from Brambilla / Serrani)

Second morning at Identità Milano 2021 with the chef from Argine a Vencò in Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia), Antonia Klugmann on the stage of the Auditorium: Gabriele Zanatta only a few days ago published a detailed interview with her, anticipating some of her thoughts on the theme of this year's congress, Building a new future - Work.

«The quality of our dishes is connected to the value of the human resources at work in our kitchens», she said, and in her lesson at Identità Milano she started from the same concept. Introducing her speech with a video that started with some frames that illustrated how ants at work cooperate, Antonia Klugmann talked about execution. A task that in the kitchen is handed to the team, the brigade.

«The guys in my team – she explained – are all twenty years younger than me: what I learnt working with people who are so young, and I believe you can notice in sports too, is that often being young doesn't mean being superficial. If, through your presence in the kitchen, the way a coach would do, you can notice and enhance the efforts of each member, that same daily effort acquires meaning, and people are pleased with their micro-improvements, and the entire team can feel a sense of justice. It's in this way that people are put in the condition of giving their best, and only if this happens my cuisine evolves as well. I could be the most creative chef in the world, but if my team didn't know how to execute my dishes in the best possible way, it would be useless».

It would be, in a way, a waste: a theme Klugmann holds very dear, not only thinking of ingredients. «There's not a single recipe at Argine that doesn't consider the final goal of reducing waste: I think it's unconceivable to think of dishes, especially now, that would generate food waste. But even the efforts of the team, their work, must not go wasted: the gestures repeated every night to make the dishes must be essential, and that linearity in the execution is then conveyed to clients too. It's important to communicate this concept to the brigade. Sustainability is a concept that goes far beyond ingredients and cooking techniques, but must be applied to time too, and to the awareness of those at work, giving them the right motivation; plus, one needs to seek sustainability even in the price and the food cost of a dish, as a form of respect towards clients».

«The impact, the result of this approach – the chef continued – doesn't only reach the clients: I'd like to imagine our kitchens as real "workshops" in which a cook has a chance to influence the mind and the hands of those who pass in that place of work. Repeating a gesture: for every service, we serve around 200 dishes; each dish, during an average working day, is executed around 40 times. How much and what will remain in their memories of that work, that execution? If we create the right relationship between us and them, the message will pass also in the food they will make later, in the kitchen. I often hear people talking of standardising processes in the kitchen, it's certainly a necessity, but I don't forget this is essentially an artisanal work. I surely need to work with people who can listen and interpret the instructions they receive, but I must be aware of the sensitivity and uniqueness of each one of them. I must consider the gap between me and each cook and see in each execution of one of my dishes a change, a necessary transformation of my idea from which the dish was born».

To give two "cooked" examples of this approach, Antonia Klugmann presented two dishes: in the first, courgettes are the main character. Interpreted in all of its parts, and in different sizes too: large courgettes, left to grow before picking them, used to make vegetable stock without added fats, in which to cook broken and strained rice. Average-sized courgettes and baby courgettes added later, with their stalks, leaves and flowers. To this base she adds tapioca infused in soy milk aromatised with horseradish and bay leaves, presented as an aromatised oil, as a powder, and as an extract of fresh leaves. «A simple dish in terms of ingredients, that is completed by the hands of Salvo who makes it».

Soup of broken rice, courgettes and bay leaves

Soup of broken rice, courgettes and bay leaves

To explain the second dish, with meat, Klugmann started by illustrating two goals she had in running her restaurant in the past two years: «The first goal was to work enough to afford an extra day off, and we reached it. And then only using meat from local sustainable farmers, and never trawling fish: it's a luxury that I only allowed myself this year, to be able to tell clients exactly where the meat and fish we offer come from».

«And for this reason too – he continued, – I decided to go to my butcher and ask him what cut he wanted me to interpret. He chose rump, a cut I would have never chosen, complex to prepare both because of its fat and because of its structure. But we realised the best way to prepare it was to cut it into very thin slices and then pass these in herb butter with traditional Italian herbs like sage, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme. The butter is first clarified in a pan with the herbs, and then used to cook the meat: in this case too, gestures are crucial. The meat must not be cooked too long or too little, it mustn't change colour. It's like a low temperature cooking, but fast. A few small differences are enough to change the dish completely: to serve, we place it on a purée of potatoes creamed only with water and oil: again, the quantity of purée is crucial to enhance the meat which must remain the main protagonist».

Rump of Vacca Friulana with herb butter and potato purée

Rump of Vacca Friulana with herb butter and potato purée

At the end of her speech, Antonia Klugmann explained that not only the creative process is influenced by the way dishes are executed, it is also influenced by time: having been able to create 30 new dishes for Argine a Vencò was an achievement made possible only thanks to the extra time available because of the forced closures imposed by Covid; for instance, she would have never managed to find the right technique to handle rump in the middle of a normal season. 


Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

IG2021: il lavoro


Niccolò Vecchia

Journalist, based in Milan. At 8 years old, he received a Springsteen record as a gift, and nothing was the same since. Music and food are his passions. Author and broadcaster at Radio Popolare since 1997, since 2014 he became part of the staff of Identità Golose 
Instagram: @NiccoloVecchia

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