Goodbye to Combal.zero, the place that changed Italian cuisine. Here are 20 dishes that made its history

The lights have gone off, for an indefinite period of time, in the iconic restaurant of Davide Scabin at Castello di Rivoli. We'll go through its history, thanks to a new book by Marco Bolasco and Marco Trabucco

11-01-2021
Closed for an indefinite period of time, that'

Closed for an indefinite period of time, that's what the Michelin guide says, after removing the last star to Combal.zero at Castello di Rivoli, an iconic place for every food lover, where the brilliant Davide Scabin changed Italian cuisine for over two decades. He had opened in that location in 2002, but already in 1994, with Milena Pozzi, the chef had created his first restaurant, Al Combal, in Almese, in Valle di Susa

We publish "Rivoluzione sabauda" a chapter from the recent La vita segreta dei cuochi, by Marco Bolasco and Marco Trabucco published by Giunti editore (to buy the Italian version click here). We do so because Davide Scabin doesn’t deserve to leave the scene silently, with a line in a press release from Michelin summing up the 2021 edition of the red guide. This chapter completes my story in XXL, 50 piatti che hanno allargato la mia vita, which I relaunched in October online, but was published as a book in the autumn of 2014.

I realise only now, following Combal.zero's closure for an indefinite period of time, that only a few of us, hardly a crowd, can tell about the very first Combal, the one from the Nineties in Almese. Unknown to guides, many of us discovered it thanks to Bob NotoBob induced many critics and reviewers to detour from their schedule and take some time off their trips to the Langhe to go to Val di Susa, which you would hardly even visit. Arriving from Torino, Almese was right there.

Three cooks are part of my very personal podium of emotions experienced for the first time when dining at their restaurant: Ferran AdriàMassimiliano Alajmo and Davide Scabin. But rivers of ink had already been poured for the Catalan chef, so much so it made you wonder if perhaps you had already dined there. And it was somewhat similar with Alajmo at Le Calandre in Rubano (Padua), given that the foundations of the first star had been placed by his parents, Erminio in the dining room and Rita in the kitchen. Nothing of the sort applied to the chef from Torino. He was completely new. You arrived there with your memories in a state of tabula rasa and, as such, they were ready to be written there and then.

Paolo Marchi

Once upon a time, back when no one would have imagined, there was a secluded trattoria in Piedmont that served creative menus “clandestinely” Combal. And then a very modern, crystal restaurant, next to one of the most important museums of contemporary art in Italy. Serving dishes of great classic and bourgeois cuisine. Combal.Zero.

Two sides of the same medal, of the complex and eclectic intelligence of Davide Scabin. «A few words are enough to present Davide Scabin: it's enough to say he has changed the history of cuisine». With this sentence Alessandra Meldolesi defines the genius from Rivoli. No, actually from Almese. Bob Noto also gave a perfect description: «Davide is the only one in Piedmont who has made the effort to shake the souls. He was the first to offer fine dining in one of the regions where tradition had its deepest roots, showing the smallest inclination for innovation. A bet usually lost from the start that he won instead. And became famous all over the world».

Davide Scabin at Identità Golose

Davide Scabin at Identità Golose

Genius and recklessness, a constantly evolving cook, with a revolutionary soul. Very passionate and at the same time one of the most careful and strict organisers one can find in the world of gastronomy. His idea of cuisine has changed over the years, and this had to be the case. Passing from the traditional trattoria with Al Combal to the innovative first courses served side by side with cured meat and veal in tuna sauce. From the creative menu and the cyber egg to food design and to the attention to the – now forgotten – great classic bourgeois cuisine. To arrive at what Meldolesi defines as evolution in a trans-classic sense. «After years of food design Davide Scabin is now doing underground innovation. With the breaded fillet that has the aroma of the fireplace in fact you taste flavours you know perfectly well, but never ate together. No more shocks or emotional artifices that make the dish stick in your head, but aromas that play on ancestral elements and go much beyond de-structuring. Today the dishes of Scabin are richer and enjoyed by the cunning gourmet as well as by my father».

Scabin's training is atypical for a great chef: no apprenticeship with the masters of Italian and international cuisine, no trips abroad, no outside cultural and philosophical influence. Davide starts at fourteen, attending the catering school in Torino, and then works in two important restaurants in town. «I've been in a couple of fantastic restaurants, ’L Galantom in Torino and Bontan in San Mauro Torinese. But I've never been interested in what others did. I never had the craze of dining at my colleagues, or to read catering magazines. With all the congresses now, it's all a matter of copy and paste. Everyone does the same everywhere. I believe one should somehow guarantee the paternity of certain ideas».

In 1994, with Milena Pozzi, he opens Al Combal in Almese, in Val di Susa. Chequered tablecloths and traditional cuisine served in trays in the middle of the table, but after a short time, upon reservation, he starts to serve a creative menu in which he expresses his true idea of cuisine. The voice spreads and Italian gourmets start to meet on the road that takes you to Colle del Lys: Scabin is already using many of the techniques that will later dominate in the European avantgarde, with others copying him. This is when the Cyber egg is born, as well as a cream of peppers with a gelatine of fond bruin, the lobster cooked in butter and white truffle.

Cyber Egg

Cyber Egg

In 2002 he's offered to move to Castello di Rivoli, next to the Museo di Arte Contemporanea. He opens Combal.Zero, a crystal and steel parallelepiped that looks over Torino next to the magnificent castle designed by Juvarra. A wide and original space, uncommon in Italy when it comes to restaurants, which allows the team of Combal to challenge themselves even with opening events for the exhibitions in the nearby museum.

Here Scabin refines his idea of reproductivity and seriality, studying his own version of food design. Here he starts to serve innovative menus and dishes that introduce a multisensorial experience with food-related memories, entertaining and always keeping a focus on the hedonistic element.

Piola kit

Piola kit

Hambook

Hambook

«For the culinary sector, the loop between emotion and experience is lethal, because while the experience is a conscious matter, emotions are still unconscious. But the part that interests me the most is the “animal” one, the one that has to do with pleasure. Because we all feel pleasure, but we don't do so in the same way. I'm interested in this aspect because it's the most across-the-board and the truest one. Even though it is not a given fact that I will produce flavours and things that will give me pleasure. The biggest issue is when we move into the conscious phase, into the experience after which [like with relationships, he says] it will be hard to be thrilled again. That's when transgression and perversion help. A balanced use of these elements will get the experience started once again. They break the model. They reproduce pleasure. It's often us who make things banal while a little polishing and dusting would make them pleasurable once again. Sometimes even a negative taste can be the right stimulus to recreate an experience».

Black is black

Black is black

Zuppizza

Zuppizza

Space lasagne

Space lasagne

Aubergine Tataki and tomato confit 

Aubergine Tataki and tomato confit 

Kidney with Gin

Kidney with Gin

Fassona al camino

Fassona al camino

G&G Burger

G&G Burger

Cold fusion

Cold fusion

Scabin indeed represents the tip of the – small – iceberg of Italian avantgarde in the kitchen. He's been, and still is, the leader of a group of creative thought born in Piedmont, «one of the regions most rooted in tradition» to quote Noto.

Indeed, nobody in Italy has yet had the courage of doing what he's done.

Scabin has created many dishes for Combal.zero that he also presented at Identità Golose, over the years. Here are some, with photos from Brambilla-Serrani. We start with Check salad, here is the recipe

Scabin has created many dishes for Combal.zero that he also presented at Identità Golose, over the years. Here are some, with photos from Brambilla-Serrani. We start with Check saladhere is the recipe

Baked shallot with spaghettoni and anchovy sauce, here is the recipe

Baked shallot with spaghettoni and anchovy saucehere is the recipe

Seafood salad and grilled rigatoni alla carbonara, here is the recipe

Seafood salad and grilled rigatoni alla carbonarahere is the recipe

Matrioska di Tropea, here is the recipe

Matrioska di Tropeahere is the recipe

Horizontal potato

Horizontal potato

Petite Marmite, here is the recipe

Petite Marmitehere is the recipe

Gnocchi alla romanara, here is the recipe

Gnocchi alla romanarahere is the recipe

Spaghetti Pizza Margherita, here is the recipe

Spaghetti Pizza Margheritahere is the recipe