Martians in Milazzo

22-year old Davide Guidara tries to make Redzepi’s lesson meet local products at the Eolian Hotel

The very young staff at the restaurant inside the

The very young staff at the restaurant inside the Eoalian Hotel Milazzo: left to right, chef de partie Samuel Capone, 22-year-old chef Davide Guidara, sous Francesco Coppola and Gabriele Del Bono, an intern who has just left the kitchen. The other chef de partie Carlo Alberto Patrizi, a regular staff member, is missing. At the Eolian they’re trying an interesting test by grafting contemporary and north European techniques and concepts with Sicilian tradition

We went to Milazzo to observe an interesting attempt, a sort of experimental and still not completed graft of two different worlds: northern cuisine and Sicilian tradition. What’s nice is that the person who’s trying to unknot this Gordian knot since last June – hence less than six months ago – is a very young man, almost a callow youth: born in 1994, Davide Guidara is only 22 but extremely passionate about cooking and cooking techniques and has spent many hours studying cooking in theory (his first collection of recipes, in a notebook, when he was nine) and as many, if not more, in practice. For almost ten years now he’s been working in the kitchen: first close to home, at Raffaele D’Addio’s Foro dei Baroni in Puglianello, as he comes from Cerreto, in Sannio, and a few steps away at Giuseppe Iannotti’s Kresios; then he worked with Nino Di Costanzo, Alfonso Iaccarino, Michel Bras but most of all, his most important training experience was at Renè Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen (please note he also participated in the 2015 edition of Hell’s Kichen Italia with Carlo Cracco).

He has the profile of someone who wants to climb mountains. And fast. Of someone who doesn’t hide the ambition of rushing into things: something that can be considered quite legitimate, given his fearless age, or premature. Time will tell, but his approach to the island at the Eolian Hotel Milazzo, a majestic four star hotel in which Guidara guides the kitchen, looks fertile: «I’m with the fishermen almost every night, from 3 to 6, to choose the best products and learn from their experience. Then I sleep 4 or 5 hours so I’m ready for lunch. Then a nap and we start with dinner». Meanwhile, he’s found the time to start a collaboration with Giuseppe Fogliani, born in 1968, a graduate in Natural Sciences, a past as a musician and a present called 7puntobios, an organic farm also in Milazzo, 6,000 square metres of which 1,000 dedicated to growing vegetables: «I research micro-plants» he says while we walk among tomatoes and courgettes, finger lime and aromatic herbs, nasturtium, beetroot, shallot, blue corn, white aubergines and so forth.

Davide Guidara

Davide Guidara

A large part of the production now ends at the Eolian, where Guidara enjoys giving it often a new shape. Because his way of approaching products is still strongly connected with what he learnt from Redzepi: marinades, brine, fermentation, smoking, dehydration... He’s trying to find a balance between technical approach and valorising pure local ingredients: «When I first arrived my dishes were a little to complex for Milazzo. People asked for more traditional aromas. So I fine-tuned a new menu, and I must say that since a few months ago things are going marvellously».

He certainly has a strong personality, while the tasting menu reveals how the meeting between northern and Sicilian soul is for the time being solved by offering dishes inspired by the former though using strictly local ingredients («And they say I have no connection with the territory!»), and others – we’d say this was comfort food – that reinterpret traditional recipes and are more abundant in the à la carte menu.

Though stimulating, in the end the style is unavoidably incoherent, as if a Martian had landed in front of the Aeolian islands. With three crucial mitigating circumstances: 1) Guidara is quite experienced but surely very young; 2) he’s been working in Milazzo for a few months only; 3) he’s trying out a complex match, completely unheard of in Sicily. In other words, we sympathise.

Having said the limits of an evolving journey, there are many positive notes. First of all, we like the idea that someone is trying to detach the island cuisine from the perennial call of the local gastronomic roots, which are extraordinary and very sound, deserving only respect and admiration, but at the same time they cannot become a totem idolatrised without questioning. The risk remaining unchanged, too afraid to make mistakes. Is there space for someone who wants to take a different road and challenge taboos? And when should you take this risk, if not at 22, with the right technical skills, a huge desire to do well and a strong dedication?

Guidara's egg

Guidara's egg

Then sometimes the outcome on the plate is already successful, in a journey that favours strong notes instead of round ones, hence lots of iodine, strong acidity and contrasts. Among the appetizers, the Tacos with celeriac, fish salad, nori seaweed, lemon and a dash of seawater, the Pork rind popcorn with sea urchin mousse and lemon verbena, the Tuna belly marinated in juniper are delicious. The Cold smoked mackerel, with chards, santolina and ficu, that is to say a goat cheese from Agrigento curdled with fig sprigs and wrapped in fig leaves, a Slow Food Presidium, is convincing. Then there’s the egg, which Guidara prepares like this: the egg yolk is confit, the white is first fried, then blended and syphoned to make a mousse which is then used to create the sunny-side-up effect; below, there’s a glaze of dandelion infusion, above there’s crispy bread and red chard.

The first courses are a little affected by the complex necessity of uniting a strong local tradition with the chef’s creative verve; among the main courses, the Stuffed calamari filled with raisins, stale whole wheat bread, pistachio and orange paired with hollandaise sauce with some sprinkled powdered pine tree adding creaminess to creaminess and thus excessive stands out: the dish is not perfect but the stuffed cephalopod is really delicious, a perfect balance of sweet, savoury, citrus, fat, grilled and toasted notes.

Stuffed calamari filled with raisins, stale whole wheat bread, pistachio and orange, paired with hollandaise sauce sprinkled with some smoked pine tree

Stuffed calamari filled with raisins, stale whole wheat bread, pistachio and orange, paired with hollandaise sauce sprinkled with some smoked pine tree

So you get the type: at a recent cooking demo at Taormina Gourmet, Guidara presented a Grilled fish without fish: broth made with Irish moss, seawater with iodine and plankton (supplied by Ángel León) in which he cooked a celeriac paste made by fermenting this tuber with bacteria. All this seasoned with powdered toasted pine tree.

The bread – a single hot loaf served at the table, as required by a reasonable trend – is self-produced with Tumminia flour, «basically, I don’t knead it: I leave it to rest and it raises by itself»: the result is a quite pleasant thickness, plus excellent crispiness. Guidara uses very little sea salt, «in order to add sapidity I prefer dehydrated and powdered seaweeds, or a sort of salty brine, made by marinating fish in salted water for a short time, so as to obtain a more homogeneous effect on the palate».

There’s work to be done in terms of palate cleanliness, respect of raw materials (the amberjack was a little worn out by the process), overall balance, on some choices in style that show a love for technique that is still not absorbed and detached from the context: yet the experience of the young chef from Sannio with origins from Messina is worth following with curiosity and favour.


Carlo Mangio

An outdoor trip or a journey to the other side of the planet?
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