Cristiano Tomei

Credit Brambilla-Serrani

Credit Brambilla-Serrani


piazza del Collegio, 7
Tel. +39 331 9308931

In my opinion, Cristiano Tomei is one of the best chefs in our country. He represents a sort of model (one of the models) of what the Italian creative cuisine of the future could be – should be: a spectacular match of territory, tradition and opening to foreign influences, perhaps presented in a simple way. He enjoys recalling grandmothers’ cooking, a connection with his Tuscan roots, both from the inland – he works in Lucca – and from the sea – he was born in Viareggio in 1974. In other words, his cuisine enhances local products. However, he knows how to match them with a rare perspicacity and a suave touch with a never banal exoticism, and always interpreted through an Italian contemporary approach.

This flair hides behind an unusual and complex person with a Gascon and playful attitude. On top of that, his L’Imbuto, part of the L.U.C.C.A - Lucca Center of Contemporary Art, has little to do with fine dining restaurants in terms of setting: it almost looks like a bistro, though elegant. But it’s often full, despite being in a small town, and without making compromises. There’s not even a menu: just say the number of courses and leave it to the chef. He explains: «Cooking is like jazz: the music score is set, but harmonies are the result of the musician’s improvisation. As chefs, we must offer happiness, our goal is to engage the senses, we use techniques that have precise chemical-physical rules as their foundations. Yet a cook [not just a person who makes food, he points out] has a duty to question what’s already known», and take on new roads.

Betray in order to create. Break the rules. Play with tradition. Match the unthinkable. All these rules go bust”: these words are quoted from the (non)menu at L’Imbuto and express, with exaggerated emphasis, some good ideas. They also imply great technical skills. Yet he’s a self-trained chef: he studied at the Istituto Nautico and trained by helping out during family lunches based on arselle from the beaches of Viareggio and wild asparagus from the hills between Lucca and the sea. «I used to travel with surfer friends and then leave them to the waves while I explored markets, taverns, gourmet restaurants in the Basque Country, Cuba, Peru, Madagascar and India».

He opened his first restaurant right on the beach at 27, and then moved it to the centre of Viareggio and finally to Lucca, where he conquered a Michelin star in 2014. He uses techniques from all around the world, but only local raw materials: fish from the Tyrrhenian Sea; meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables from Garfagnana; herbs, berries, sprouts and wild flowers he picks daily under the pine trees and in the fields. I get the feeling he’s never been as accomplished, as mature, as he’s now: after all, he now has two children (after Sebastiano, Enea was born) and his wife Laura Verpecinskaite looks after him closely, while she directs the dining room.

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Carlo Passera

journalist born in 1974, for many years he has covered politics, mostly, and food in his free time. Today he does exactly the opposite and this makes him very happy. As soon as he can, he dives into travels and good food. Identità Golose's editor in chief