Mind, genius and soul: the surprising cuisine of Riccardo Canella at the iconic Cipriani Belmond Hotel

Notes from a great dinner at Oro, the gourmet restaurant of the famous hotel in Venice, overlooking Piazza San Marco. The chef matches the imprinting from Noma with the ecosystem of the lagoon: character, clear vision and (almost) endless potential

20-10-2022
by Chiara Buzzi
Chef Riccardo Canella from Oro at Belmond Hotel

Chef Riccardo Canella from Oro at Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice. Photo Belmond/PA Jorgensen

Like a child in a room full of toys, some already open, some that need fixing, some that need unwrapping. With the eyes shining, set on a list of goals, Riccardo Canella – who recently became chef at restaurant Oro inside the Belmond Hotel Cipriani – is enthusiastic about the challenge. A new home, a residence that is both a school, a gym, an engine of ideas and possibilities for this young man ex sous-chef at Noma in Copenhagen for eight dense years. «I wanted to return to Italy, to get closer to these regions that I hold dear and try to bring something different not only for the reality in which I’m working but also for the area in which we’re located».

The context where he’s now working, that of the historic hotel in Venice, includes the strong heritage of those who preceded Canella and at the same time a huge potential to discover and enhance. «I’m learning a lot, every day. The team is constantly evolving, our work is varied and at last I must handle the managerial aspects of my professional, the financial side, the communication, and all this from the point of view of an important international group».

The dining room at Oro. Photo Mattia Aquila

The dining room at Oro. Photo Mattia Aquila

On top of restaurant Oro, open only in the evening, a Michelin star for only a few very elegant tables, Canella is also responsible for all the food and beverage department of the hotel. Hence we range from the 24-hour room service, to the snack bar in front of the pool serving international and Mediterranean comfort food, to restaurant Il Porticciolo. The decor of the latter was completely renovated; for now it is only open at lunchtime with a large offer from the raw bar curated by the chef and a buvette of champagne by the glass.

For those who would like to have an immersive and different experience, compared to what the lagoon has usually offered, a dinner at Oro is mandatory. The tasting menu called Divenire includes eight courses of meat, fish and vegetables while the second menu is completely vegetal, and called Vegetum. There are no à la carte options, the dishes are imagined to be connected to one another, a growing flow of flavours: you can have fun breaking some expectations, and the traditional rhythms of the service. You will find yourself surrounded by a kaleidoscope of shapes and scents. Each course is presented at the table either by the chef or by the young commis (who are still a little shy to talk to the clients though their eyes are bright and full of passion).

It’s a very colourful cuisine in which the imprinting of Noma is tangible, both to eye and palate, partly adapted to Italy and to the different context. Between the vegetable garden of the hotel, in the Casanova garden, and the surrounding islands, they can satisfy the need of ingredients in terms of volumes and quality, using many varieties of vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, tubers. Vegetables have a new dignity, and equal importance as meat and fish. Every mouth is marvellous. «What interests me the most is taste. When clients taste one of my dishes, the bite must be an explosion, irrespective of the research we have dedicated to it and the technique used to make it».

Above: Baccalà mantecato with koji, rice wafer with squid ink, oyster leaf, caviar. Below: Courgette flower in tempura, coffee, lavender & Tartlet of porcini, almonds, black truffle

Above: Baccalà mantecato with koji, rice wafer with squid ink, oyster leaf, caviar. Below: Courgette flower in tempura, coffee, lavender Tartlet of porcini, almonds, black truffle

Left Clams, fermented cooking water from pasta, oil with sea weeds and sea fennel. Right Taco with polenta, schie, egg sauce with lemon, oil with peperone crusco, Mexican oregano & Drop of gold, oil of celery leaves, sea urchins, Venetian curry

Left Clams, fermented cooking water from pasta, oil with sea weeds and sea fennel. Right Taco with polenta, schie, egg sauce with lemon, oil with peperone crusco, Mexican oregano Drop of gold, oil of celery leaves, sea urchins, Venetian curry

Riccardo Canella loves mushrooms, yeast, truffle, fermentation and all that contributes, in one way or the other, to increase the note of umami that is crucial in many recipes. We start with Pollen/ta made with miso and burnt polenta which is served as a forest of herbs and sprouts. You sip it with a straw while the nose is charmed by the aroma of the flowers.

Smascherato

Smascherato

Smascherato is instead a wafer of seaweed and polenta covered with flowers and made with a miniature Venetian mask: a small artwork, crispy on the palate, with the flower petals caressing the lips in an exercise in taste to which our palate is not very used, but which surprises and conquers. Biting the wafer it’s as if we were pulling down the wall of protection and well-accepted narrative pact with the chef: off goes the mask to start a culinary journey together in search of taste. Delicate and seasonal, Veniceviche is made with slices of courgettes from the Island of Sant’Erasmo, smoked tomato water, oil of tomato leaves, Select bitter and berries from the vegetable garden. A small painting to observe and eat.

Veniceviche

Veniceviche

Scallops from Chioggia in horse broth and powdered burnt lemon

Scallops from Chioggia in horse broth and powdered burnt lemon

This is followed by Scallops from Chioggia in horse broth and powdered burnt lemon. Once again we’re liquid, with a spoon in our hands and with broth to amplify the cooking and texture. The meat melts in your mouth without disappearing. It’s fat, fresh and meets the radicchio with its bitter note that immediately brings back the balance. «After looking around for weeks, I’ve finally found a supplier who brings the catch only to selected markets. We have all his products here at Oro» the chef said.

Ravioli filled with cod tripe, broth of busara and spiced oil

Ravioli filled with cod tripe, broth of busara and spiced oil

In this menu Ravioli filled with cod tripe, broth of busara and spiced oil take a prominent role, in honour of the island of Burano given that the pasta is embellished with orange and black brushes that hint at the glass sculptures typical of the island. What can we say? It’s one of those occasions when fine dining goes beyond its nature and takes us back to the origins, to soup, to gestures, and to the comfort of a broth that warms up and softens the rich and tasty filling. The vegetarian equivalent of this recipe is Ombelico di Venere: cappelletto filled with almonds, served in a broth of wild herbs from the lagoon, where we almost miss the difference with a meat filling.

It is only now, with the show already started, that the bread is served. A loaf of sourdough bread made with organic flour, then bread sticks that recall Sardinian filindeu given how thin they are, and crackers covered with curry. This is finished with oil, from the olive groves of Belmond Castello di Casole and butter, whose flavour goes beyond the concept and experience of butter itself. In fact it’s a butter whipped with chargrilled yeast, which somehow closes the circle on the circular foundations of Canella’s cuisine: what feeds us and is a primary source of nutrition is also the seasoning of that same ingredient. The yeast has this twofold function, symbolically ending a sort of cycle of Krebs and hence leading to a new life.

Rise, bay leaves and saffron. Photo Belmond/PA Jorgensen

Rise, bay leaves and saffron. Photo Belmond/PA Jorgensen

We continue with Rice, bay leaves and saffron, a tribute to two icons of the Italian restaurant scene, Massimiliano Alajmo and Gualtiero Marchesi. The powdered liquorice of Alajmo’s famous dish is replaced with bay leaves, more tannic and thicker, which are happily married with the saffron garnished with a cream of pollen and rose oil. The gold leaf that Marchesi used to place on the rice, is placed below now, as a sign of respect and dedication.

At the end of the journey they don’t serve meat but the forest, with Pumpkin “bronsa querta”, that is to say sea pumpkin cooked slowly on the embers, served with a glaze of mushrooms and seaweeds, oil with polenta and the first toasted porcini. A splendid dish, with which you can have fun and enjoy, diving into the atmosphere of the autumn and into the complex tunnel of flavours and aromas of the mountains. The circle closes with a soft Gelato of woodruff, oyster, and cream with goat blue cheese with tarragon oil: enveloping, sapid and totally visionary. An epilogue that is not real sweetness but aims to cuddle the taste buds in a soft passage between the savoury part and the end of the meal.

Gelato di woodruff, oyster and cream with goat blue cheese and tarragon oil. Photo Belmond/PA Jorgensen

Gelato di woodruff, oyster and cream with goat blue cheese and tarragon oil. Photo Belmond/PA Jorgensen

Even though it’s only been a few months since Riccardo Canella can boast to be at home at Cipriani’s, what you can sense at Oro is that it’s the beginning of a journey with a strong identity, with determination and constant evolution. This young man has a clear vision and he’s developing it day by day and adapting it to the territory, its critical aspects and beauty, to time. Some very fertile, dynamic, almost whimsical times await in Giudecca: we can’t wait to experience this!

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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