Niko Romito, having always explored new horizons, now becomes an avatar too

At Identità Milano the chef recounts his 'counterexamples as a form of evolution', in a career constantly disobeying to the already known, Onion Absolute, Bread, Biscuit, Leaf, to the new replicable Soups. The challenge of artificial intelligence

Niko Romito on stage at Identità Milano 2024. All

Niko Romito on stage at Identità Milano 2024. All photos are by Brambilla-Serrani

Disobedience? Niko Romito would rather speak of counterexample. 'Counter-example as a form of evolution,’ his avatar explains in the preamble. A stiffly posed, mechanical Romito speaks, dubbed by a voice that is not his own. A gimmick that silences the audience in the auditorium of Identità Milano 2024, captivated by the sense of surprise and estrangement.

This is not a clickbait stunt, but a choice that 'conceptualises the concept of counterexample', which, drawing on mathematics,  Romito 2.0 defines as ‘a specific example that shows the limits of a theory or hypothesis,’ a stimulus to critical thinking which in his case translated into ‘questioning the culinary conventions and experimenting beyond traditional boundaries,’ showing the existence of ‘a valid alternative to a well-established rule of gastronomy that respects the values of tradition but leads to a new dimension.’

The avatar goes back to its corner and the chef from Reale in flesh, bones and emotions takes the stage and begins to deal the cards. He announces that he will give some practical examples of his 'attitude to do things to try and give new answers,' drawing from over 20 years of career. He will start with the Onion Absolute, a dish from 2009, 'a conceptual counter-example. A pure liquid, which tastes one hundred per cent of onion and is influenced by other ingredients but with the structure of a water. ‘I could not call it broth, because in gastronomic literature broth is something else. So I forced the rules of expression, and found a new definition that in my gastronomic vocabulary is absolute.'

On the big screens: it looks like Romito, but really is his avatar

On the big screens: it looks like Romito, but really is his avatar

Then there's Bread, a two-stage disobedience: in 2013, the idea of transforming the most universal food into a real dish. The breadbasket disappears and an ideal loaf appears, ‘made using functional regeneration techniques to create crispy crusts.’ Laboratorio Romito , 'an almost unique case of a product giving birth to a company and not vice versa', starts producing bread with the cold chain, which allows 'to take it from the laboratory and serve it in Italy and Europe'. Then the spin off in 2023, when 'we put the bread in a bag with an oxygen to nitrogen saturation technique that can keep it 30 days at +4°.’ Here we have two disobediences, 'one of status, the other biological: a packaged product can be a good product.’

Again. Here is Bomba, from 2015. Disobeying the prejudice towards an industrial product, Romito's cake is 'fat-free, a vegetable bomb', produced by a laboratory, which makes it 'scalable, the same product of the same quality arrives in Dubai, Paris, Milan, Rome, Castel di Sangro.’ Then there is Spaghetto e pomodoro, 'an apparently simple dish that I can repeat in all seven Bulgari restaurants, in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, Milan. Paris, Tokyo and Rome with a precise standard even in terms of aesthetics.

So we have shown that Italian cuisine, among the best known in the world but also among the most abused by misinterpretations, could be codified and enjoyed with the same quality at the same time in different latitudes.'

Disobedience to codes. Here is the Biscotto, 'disobedience to the rules of pastry-making': it is made without eggs, without animal fats, and yet it is 'full-bodied, enveloping, rich. In a word: good.'It is one of the most difficult challenges of Romito's career, who exults when he must 'solve a problem by combining function and aesthetics like a designer.'

Then image of Foglia, the emblem-dish of the vegetable menu launched in 2022 and which has copernically changed Italian fine dining, pops up on the screen. ‘It is the outer part of broccoli, which is normally discarded, and here it becomes the focus of the dish, from extra to leading actor.’ A case to be classified as 'functional disobedience'. Finally, the Alt Stazione del Gusto soup, 'symbolic disobedience' that gives new value to preserved food. It is made with good, healthy, high-quality ingredients, but it is bagged and can be stored for a year at room temperature with the same taste and nutritional characteristics as the fresh product.

Romito with Paolo Marchi and Francesco Mastrovito, who hosted the talk of the chef from Abruzzo

Romito with Paolo Marchi and Francesco Mastrovito, who hosted the talk of the chef from Abruzzo

Romito is a fan of process industrialisation; we know his obsession with mass catering as the next desirable destination for food quality. His path, which he applies to the entire ecosystem of his galaxy of venues and hubs, winds along the dialectic that starts with research, passes through training, is perfected through engineering (‘A word that sounds strange in gastronomy, where people prefer to talk about craftsmanship’) and ends up codified in protocols. This is the Romito method, his disobedience made of codes and rigour.

Translate into English by Slawka G. Scarso

IG2024: the disobedience


Andrea Cuomo

Roman, now living in Milan, sommelier, he's reporter of Il Giornale. He's been writing about taste for years

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