WITH HANDS IN THE DOUGH
Ruggero Ravagnan, Andrea Tortora and the Piffer brothers open the doors to their kitchens to discover a new way of working the most traditional raw material in Italian food culture: flour. Brought together by passion for their craft, their artisanal skill
Cooking is a love story, it is a relationship that needs to be cultivated, coddled, preserved and defended. In an era, full of changes and uncertainties, the kitchen helps us not to be afraid of everything that is happening around us, because it reminds us of who we are and where we come from. Because in all these years, of chaos and progress, what has not changed is our desire to eat. And to eat well, to which we attach ourselves, to feel safe and no longer vulnerable.
If there is an Italian gastronomic product that can be and remains the foundation of cooking, it is definitely flour. Worked on in many forms, to create cakes, breads or pizzas, good old flour has journeyed the road to achieve today’s excellence in the products it populates.
Since it is true that man does not live on bread alone, it is equally true that pizza and sweets deserve their exclusive space.
If there is a product capable of expressing Italianness, conviviality and taste, it’s definitely pizza. This is the tricolor symbol in the world, ambassador of not only local food, but of a culture, a history and a tradition that with pride resists many attempts at imitation. This time, however, we will not go to Naples to talk about pizza. Let’s leave Vesuvius behind and move north-east, to Mestre, in the province of Venice, in an establishment that has become the local gourmets recommended restaurant. The owner Ruggero “Lello” Ravagnan opens the “Grigoris” doors to us and explains what haute cuisine and refined dishes means, what it means to be the creator of a product so traditional and widely shared, and at the same time does not cease to amaze the palate.
Pizza is definitely the best-known Italian product abroad. What are the secrets of a good pizza? Do you believe that, despite everything, it will remain the symbolic dish of our country?
For a good pizza the first rule is its digestibility, so in the kitchen we need to know what we have in hand and how to make it. Whether it is wheat or flour or seasoning that will cover the dough. Grigoris’ culture is to use raw materials of the highest quality and try to work them as little as possible so as to respect their integrity. I think, however, that the pizza has lost a bit ‘of visibility, especially abroad, tainted by all the haute cuisine.
Recently, Italian pizza has also been declared a UNESCO heritage ...
It was not the pizza that received the recognition, but the “pizza system”. So UNESCO has awarded the concepts like conviviality, the art of pizza makers in rolling out the dough, the culture that revolves around the world of pizza, not so much the piece of pizza itself. I would not like to open a pizzeria where the oven is hidden, I would not have fun: the beauty is all in those 3-4 meters where we work and where we bake, see and touch the raw materials with our own hands and all just a few steps from the customer.
Not just pizza ... You also devoted yourself to reworking the “cannolo”. Where did you get this notion and how is the result?
The cannolo was born from a shared effort with Corrado Assenza (Sicilian confectioner, ndr). We found ourselves in front of a slice of pizza, we started discussing options and after 4 months of testing and experimentation we realized that with the leftover pizza dough, you could create a particularly crunchy form that could be made into a cannolo, then stuffed with cod and tomato. A creation that we always present at events as entrée or as an aperitif. A very cheerful dish that creates enthusiasm and captures people.
Pizza is definitely a traditional product in Italian culture, but behind the scenes how many experiments, tests, re-elaborations are there to create new tastes and new flavors?
That is the secret of an establishment that makes pizza: questioning, creating, being curious because curiosity triggers the enthusiasm and the desire to create new things. Our goal is to provide ourselves with a space reserved exclusively for research and experimentation where we can grow, create new combinations and doughs.
What is your favorite pizza to eat? To prepare?
Let’s say that I like to eat a pizza originating from Campana: fiordilatte, San Marzano tomatoes, Pappaccella peppers and Castelporto red sausage, an exceptional handmade salami. To prepare, however, I prefer one that we make with Joselito ham and a cream of hazelnuts and mascarpone, sprinkled on top with a cheese ricotta in flakes. Amazing.
Via Asseggiano, 147 30174 Mestre VE www.pizzeriagrigoris.it
That is the secret of an establishment that makes pizza: questioning, creating, being curious because curiosity triggers the enthusiasm and the desire to create new things.
To make great desserts you do not have to limit yourself to being “only” a confectioner, you have to become architect, creator, designer and sculptor of the works made. Only in this way is it possible to capture the public and its palate. Behind every bite of a slice of cake, a cream puff or a pastry there are hours and hours of trials, risks and mathematical calculations by those who want to be able to get the right dose, combine different tastes, to make the perfect dessert. Andrea Tortora, a pastry chef born in 1986, knows this well. Despite his young age, he is one of the masters of this challenging area, that is such a tasty and vital part of cooking. At present his hands make sweets for the lucky guests of the Rosa Alpina Hotel in Alta Badia, and the St. Hubertus Restaurant, domain of the three-star chef Norbert Niederkofler. At 30, Andrea Tortora was elected “Best Pastry Chef” by Guida di Identità Golose and by Gambero Rosso.
The pastry is a section of the orchestra, and is entrusted with two very particular moments of the restaurant experience: the welcome, through the bread, and the farewell, through the small pastry.
The present moment in Italian cuisine is the best ever, how much do you think pastry has contributed to achieving this result?
The pastry is a section of the orchestra, and is entrusted with two very particular moments of the restaurant experience: the welcome, through the bread, and the farewell, through the small pastry. It is fundamental to be in full harmony with the direction specified by the Chef of the kitchen.
The pastry is perhaps the most difficult of the cooking arts. How much study and precision does it take to prepare a high-level dessert?
One life is not enough. A dessert could be perfect today but tomorrow may already need some tweaking, even if only for expanding our point of view. The objective, intention, is rarely static. I’m always looking for an “evolutionary purpose”. I want to create something new, something innovative.
What would you counsel a young aspiring pastry chef?
I would recommend getting experience, staying humble and traveling the world. Because only the infection of other ideas and the awareness of other cultures can lead to getting better and better.
Is your greatest pride the panettone that bears your name?
No, no, let’s say it is a product in which I have always believed in and that I have always eaten as a child because it was also made in the family. It’s certainly something that I have in my heart and to which I feel bound. I think it’s a product that’s very fashionable today, but quality is not a fashion. This is why my panettones are baked in limited edition, and each piece is handcrafted with important machinery as well as with my own hands. The human factor remains preeminent.
Your work at the 3 Michelin starred restaurant must certainly be big gratification, but doesn’t it also put a lot of pressure on you?
There are 7 billion people in the world, and there are just over 100 3-star restaurants around the world. There certainly is pressure, but I believe that maintaining quality and consistency is the right thing to do after achieving recognition like this. When we got the third star I thought “What now?”. I’ve worked with Norbert Niederkofler for 10 years and we had this goal, we’ve achieved it and now there is a yearning for something else. What is the new challenge?
In addition to those within your family, did you have other sources of inspiration?
Surely the family gave me the start, then every experience I had, positive or negative, gave me something that shaped me. An experience is not immediately assessed until after 4-5 years. Everything I’ve done I would do again, because it helped me become what I am today.
RESTAURANT ST. HUBERTUS
Strada Micurà de Rü, 20 39036 San Cassiano BZ www.st-hubertus.it
Reinventing, rather than inventing, is the key word for Ivan and Matteo Piffer. Their work is based on this concept, giving new life to a food that many take for granted, but that has little to take for granted: bread. In a world of innovations, experimentations, revolutions, we often forget the simple things, the things that are the basics in our culture or, in this case, our kitchen. Because in the midst of this nouvelle cuisine we almost never notice the fundamental, distinctive element, which can never be lacking on our tables. Panificio Moderno, in Trento, is the company where the Piffer family continues a family tradition, reinventing bread, working it according to new recipes, but always with respect for the tradition of this food.
Flour of kamut, spelt, coal, hemp ... we discover new varieties of bread every day. Has there been a recent reevaluation of this product?
For many years we have been working with flour and cereals and for us it is essential to let the consumer know about the origin of the cereal. To do this we physically enter the growing fields, this is what our profession is based on. We try to get the most value from cereals and wheat, it does not matter what you call it kamut or whatever, the important thing is to give the customer the information on where and how the wheat is grown, as well as who ground it. If we go back 10 years, maybe the bread had different shapes but the same taste, now we make a single form that enhances the authentic taste of the cereal it contains.
In the midst of all this haute cuisine, does making bread get closer to tradition, almost to the humble beginnings of cooking itself?
From what we see in the industry there are both; those who carry out an idea with bread combined with haute cuisine ingredients, and those who bring one linked to the simple concept of the product. We believe that in shi-shi restaurants it may make sense to give a well-defined space to bread, combined with a variety perhaps linked to the area.
The identifying essence of the product must always be first. That is our bread, the cereal comes from a local farmer and we like to bring it to the table because it must stay as a habit of those who eat.
Do you feel like innovators of such an everyday product?
In our area we could be called this way, because in any case we belong to a rather unchanging category. Our parents carried on a tradition with simple flour, in the last few years we have gone further by working the yeast and different kinds of flours. This is why we feel a bit innovative, even if we have not invented anything. Our innovation lies in decreasing the variations, focusing on the origin of the cereal, giving more information to the customer. The habits of those who eat have also changed. 20 years ago we all ate with the family, now we eat out. Many do not buy bread, it is consumed less and less. The market evolves with these changes.
In general, is there any dish you like to prepare?
We like eating more, the work takes a long time but considering that there is also a restaurant in the shop lunch is always guaranteed. We’ll say that oven cooked vegetables are very good (laughter, ed).
Piazza Lodron, 21 38122 Trento, TN www.panificiomoderno.net
This is why we feel a bit innovative, even if we have not invented anything. Our innovation lies in decreasing the variations, focusing on the origin of the cereal, giving more information to the customer.