Michele Lazzarini, the mountain of destiny

At 29, he's got plenty of wisdom to share. Interview with Norbert Niederkofler's right arm, awarded by the Guida di Identità Golose

Michele Lazzarini from restaurant St.Hubertus i

Michele Lazzarini from restaurant St.Hubertus in San Cassiano in Badia (Bolzano), best sous-chef for the 2021 Guida ai Ristoranti di Identità Golose 

«Born in Bergamo in 1991, for 8 years now he's been the right arm of Norbert Niederkofler in Alta Badia. Meanwhile, he's acquired some short but enlightening experience in North Europe and South America, a remarkable expertise for someone his age». This is the official motivation behind the sous-chef of the year award given by Guida di Identità Golose 2021 to Michele Lazzarini. We asked him a few questions to get to know him better.

Where did your vocation for cooking start?
At home. Having Sunday lunch with my grandparents. They would make mountain dishes, from the area of Bergamo, gradually passing me the importance of tradition. I owe a lot to my mother: a full time cook, in my uncle's trattoria and at home.

Who are your teachers, and what did you learn from them?
I have so many colleagues and teachers it's hard to list them all. I was lucky enough to travel a lot and meet great talents like Virgilio Martinez, who passed me his love for the tradition of the Andes, and for researching the products of the Amazon forest. Rodolfo Guzman, who taught me how to cook the Lamb al palo in Patagonia; Eneko Atxa who taught me Basque culture; Magnus Nilsson, the wild cooking of North Europe. And finally, Rene Redzepi: arriving at Noma was like entering Hogwarts. But the greatest teacher is Norbert Niederkofler with whom I've been working for many years: stimuli, travels, experiences and Cook the mountain. Together we experienced some very satisfying moments in the past few years, presenting mountain culture on international stages. It's a philosophy of cooking that we hope can inspire many other young cooks to develop a respect and attention for nature, wherever they may be.

With Norbert Niederkofler

With Norbert Niederkofler

How do you divide the creative process?
These days Norbert takes care more of the philosophical, media and organizational part of Cook the Mountain. I take care of cooking, of researching raw materials that coherent with this philosophy. By dividing our tasks we've managed to find a balance and create a very motivated team, with people who have been working with us for years. We know well that it's not the single person who wins the game, but the entire team.

What's most important: product or technique?
They're both crucial. Our research on each dish is obsessive: we have 40 producers collaborating with us closely. But you need the right technique to give value to these products. And it's not just the cooking or preservation techniques, but the farming and production too, they're both essential.

Your cooking makes large use of fermentation.
It's one of the techniques I find most fascinating. It started as a necessity, to preserve some products: we've created a pantry from which we can draw in colder months. After all, our civilization has always been fermenting bread, wine, cheese, salami… We only needed some awareness to brush up these techniques. The example of Noma was crucial in this movement of rediscovery: they have no equal in terms of research.

The identity footprint of Michele, 29 

The identity footprint of Michele, 29 

What is the ingredient you're most at ease using?
Since I was born in the mountains, I have a passion for everything that is wild: wild herbs, berries, mushrooms, game…

Of all the experience acquired around the world, what has left the strongest mark?
Ten days spent with chef Jock Zonfrillo with an aboriginal tribe in north Australia. The goal was to survive, to self-sustain ourselves. It was like going back thousands of years, when the most important necessity was finding food and cooking it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
In the mountains, I hope, in close contact with nature. I would find it very hard to live and express myself through cooking in a city.

See also 
The review of St. Hubertus on the Guida di Identità 2021
All the awards from the 2021 Guide