A CULI­NARY RUN FOR THE BOR­DER,WITH­OUT LIM­ITS

We in­ter­viewed An­to­nia Klug­mann, Miche­lin-starred chef and head of her restau­rant on the bor­der be­tween Italy and Slove­nia. A woman of cul­ture and culi­nary trav­eler, there is one thing she would never leave: her land.

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Elisa Rodi

Cook­ing is also about in­ter­pre­ta­tion and she, An­to­nia Klug­mann, has this gift. As the chef at “L’argine a Vencò” in Dolegna del Col­lio — in the re­gion of Fri­uli Venezia Gi­u­lia — she is one of the most in­no­va­tive and coura­geous “bor­der” chefs today. Her cook­ing his­tory be­gan when she was still study­ing law in the city of Mi­lan, where, be­tween one text­book and another, she grav­i­tated to cook­ing cour­ses. Af­ter fine train­ing, she found her call­ing, drawn by an an­cient mill, along the Ju­drio River on the Ital­ian-slove­nian bor­der, and turned it into a cre­ative, ex­plo­rative cui­sine mecca: the name, L’argine, in fact, means the em­bank­ment where the restau­rant is lo­cated.

An­to­nia knows that land well, her home, and em­braces it ev­ery day: dishes waft lo­cal aro­mas, while in­no­va­tion is her bea­con. An­to­nia is a woman of pas­sion, for her work and for her land, and she pours this pas­sion into her emo­tional kitchen, made of re­duc­tion and essence. Her per­sonal gar­den is an in­te­gral part of the restau­rant and among many of the rea­sons each cre­ation sings of fresh­ness. Har­mony, cre­ativ­ity and seam­less com­po­si­tion earned her a Miche­lin star, a crown for the chef’s in­deli­ble love for her call­ing.

Tri­este-born An­to­nia Klug­mann, you were study­ing ju­rispru­dence when you were 22-years old and opened your first restau­rant when you were 26. What hap­pened in those four years?

Com­plete folly. But I was miss­ing some el­e­ment I needed to feel per­son­ally ac­com­plished: I felt that I had to fol­low and feed my cre­ativ­ity. So dur­ing uni­ver­sity, I thought that cook­ing might be the right cre­ative field for me. I did not have any prior ed­u­ca­tion, so I started by at­tend­ing am­a­teur cour­ses: in the end I left law and re­turned to my re­gion where I started do­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship. I moved from dish­washer, to clean­ing: that is how I came into the world of din­ing and I’m so glad.

Your re­turn back to your re­gion, your home, was the pin­na­cle... That was the choice that opened the door for my in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with in­gre­di­ents. Up un­til then I was fine with the tech­ni­cal as­pects of cook­ing, but liv­ing in a ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment, grow­ing my own gar­den, let me bond with the ba­sic el­e­ments and build a per­sonal ex­change that has been cor­ner­stone for me.

She started her ca­reer as a cook 15 years ago, in Mi­lano, af­ter hav­ing fin­ished her law stud­ies. This was a good de­ci­sion, as soon be­came ap­par­ent af­ter her clas­si­cal cook­ing train­ing.

Cui­sine is not only the abil­ity to pre­pare; it is also his­tory, re­search, and sto­ry­telling. What does it mean to be a chef?

I love my work and hope to con­tinue for all of my life, but cer­tain con­di­tions must be met. Be­com­ing an en­tre­pre­neur at such a young age, at 26, means that I earned the right, through my work, to be cre­ative. Be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur is the price I will­ingly pay for my free­dom.

Your cook­ing is about per­sonal and ge­o­graphic bor­ders. But it is an em­brac­ing ‘bor­der’, not a di­vid­ing line. What gifts does this ap­proach bring to you each day?

I am not in­hib­ited to seek out for­eign tra­di­tions and in­gre­di­ents from cul­tures that are some­what close to Ital­ian. The fact that I was born in Tri­este and to have a restau­rant on the bor­der gives me ac­cess to the best of Aus­trian and Eastern Euro­pean tra­di­tions. And be­yond that, I source my in­gre­di­ents from Italy and Slove­nia, tak­ing the best from both sides of the bor­der — cul­tur­ally and culi­nary. It is an un­end­ing foun­tain that should be in­cluded, not ex­cluded.

Truly, Ital­ian cui­sine is tak­ing on an ever more ex­plo­rative ap­proach, seek­ing out new paths. Is it a move away from tra­di­tional val­ues or a move back to­wards Ital­ian cui­sine’s ori­gins?

It is a mir­ror of today. Since I be­lieve that In­ter­net has opened the door to know what is hap­pen­ing on the other side of the world in real time, and a mul­ti­eth­nic so­ci­ety, and cui­sine should re­flect this, be­cause that also is the mean­ing of con­tem­po­rary. Ital­ian cook­ing has an an­cient and well-rooted tra­di­tion, but this prob­a­bly makes us even freer to go be­yond and wel­come those in­flu­ences from out­side. Those ‘con­tam­i­nates’ do not dirty, they make it all the more in­ter­est­ing.

Do you be­lieve that Ital­ian cui­sine cur­rently is ef­fec­tively pro­moted abroad? How much do think for­eign­ers re­ally know about Ital­ian fla­vors?

I think that singing the praises of Ital­ian cui­sine is a very strong way to reach an over­seas au­di­ence, but it’s also a dou­ble-edged sword: su­per­fi­cial mes­sages are risky, es­pe­cially for a deep cul­ture like ours. Qual­ity is dis­tin­guished by our fla­vors and must be pro­moted be­yond the bor­ders.

An­to­nia Klug­mann, a na­tive from Tri­este, is among the most sen­sa­tional shoot­ing stars of the north­ern Ital­ian gourmet scene.

How would you de­scribe Ital­ian cui­sine if I have to ex­plain it to a tourist?

Very of­ten we for­get that Ital­ian cui­sine is a re­gional cui­sine: to the tourist I would rec­om­mend con­sid­er­ing our penin­sula in its en­tirety and to visit even the most far-flung places, be­cause it is sur­pris­ingly unimag­in­able for those who think in that the coun­try is the land of pizza, lasagna and lit­tle else. What make us great are rich shades: who says that sim­pli­fy­ing is bet­ter? We are “com­plex” - in the most pos­i­tive sense of the term - and we have to tell that story.

Is it more im­por­tant to ex­port prod­ucts or to stim­u­late tourism to pro­mote the ex­pe­ri­ence di­rectly?

I be­lieve that both as­pects are para­mount. Ob­vi­ously, the jour­ney is a more com­plete emo­tion, a unique ex­pe­ri­ence, which doesn’t have to cost a gold­mine, ei­ther. This is also an im­por­tant mes­sage for tourists: trav­el­ing to Italy in search of an epic, ex­cel­lence ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t just for the wealthy, but also for the cu­ri­ous.

You have said that you visit kitchens around the world and that leaves a mark on your cook­ing. Where does your in­spi­ra­tion come from?

Un­doubt­edly, I would like to travel more, but my work has a de­mand­ing and strange sched­ule. Yet it is true that if I don’t man­age to travel to a place, my imag­i­na­tion does it for me, goes and dis­cov­ers and in­vents. There is a lot of study­ing be­hind my cook­ing — my own and from other coun­tries — but also from cook­books and his­toric re­search. Cook­ing moves through his­tory, dis­cov­er­ing the re­sources and knowl­edge nec­es­sary to cre­ate aware­ness.

What dishes make you feel at home?

I be­lieve that the sen­sa­tions that make you feel at home change a lot over a life­time. Some­times it just takes walk­ing into a kitchen and smelling fa­mil­iar aro­mas. I am not a very nos­tal­gic per­son, so I don’t dig deep to find child­hood fla­vors. Some­times just sit­ting down seems like a lux­ury. That is why just sit­ting down to a plate of pasta with to­mato sauce is enough for me to feel at home.

Dur­ing th­ese first four years, An­to­nia Klug­mann earned her first mer­its at the Bal­dovino restau­rant with mas­ter chef Raf­faello Maz­zolini, be­fore gain­ing pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence in fur­ther pre­mium restau­rants that in­spired her to find her own style.

Cred­its: Ce­sare Genuzio

Baby spinach, parmi­giano and ju­niper

Ox­tail, pep­pers and yo­gurt

Small, roasted wild­chicory Ravi­oli

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