Elena Lanza

Front-of-house manager, head pastry chef and tea service manager

When and where did you meet Matteo?

In a bar, in the shadow of the fourteenth-century walls of magnificent soave. I think it was easter monday. He explained that he’d just returned from india, then went on to discuss alain ducasse: i was all ears, the talk interested me and, as often happens as a result, i was also interested in the person. I slipped into the conversation and so, at aperitivo time, life changed without warning.
I found an ally, a companion. My husband. My best friend.

What were the key points of your training?

I studied at the linguistic high school and later graduated in law. It was a linear path that satisfied both me and my parents. Yet sometimes the clandestine things are what fascinate us the most. I liked working in the restaurant, and even more so doing it without my parents’ knowledge. There was a completely harmless atmosphere of conspiracy. It was a game, and at the same time a passion. And when these two elements intertwine, they give rise to a fatal outcome! (laughs) in short, my training took place in parallel, on a double track: on the one hand in the university lecture halls, on the other in the room full of dining tables. As well as in the patisserie workshop, of course.

And turning points in your professional life?

I remember individual episodes, emotions linked to the initial moments of a new experience. The emotion of the first dinner at alain ducasse’s plaza athénée in london. It was there that i really understood what it means to manage a truly excellent dining room: the waiters were so ethereal they didn’t even seem real… They were flying, actually flying! As regards the art of pastry making, on the other hand, the turning point coincided with the école ducasse courses. Here too, i remember a specific emotion when seeing the pastry chef as if suspended on a cloud (incidentally, i am still attending the parisian courses now, although my head is no longer in the clouds…). The third turning point also concerns paris: i’m honoured to attend the maison of madame yu hui tseng, the only woman among the ten masters of the tea ceremony in the world today. Tea is an authentic initiatory path.

And then we have other people’s tables.

For me it’s about the table and the room, as everywhere i go i want to learn something about it. Focusing on the table, i would start with anne-sophie pic, visited many times, which always leaves me amazed as if i knew nothing. The experience at victor arguinzoniz’s asador extebarri is incredible: you go there for the fish, the meat – sublime, of course –, and you come across a plate of simple peas, without any combination or seasoning, grilled and smoked as only he knows how to do. Other people’s tables don’t necessarily presuppose a public venue. I’m reminded of when we went to jean claude fujer’s in lyon. He made his crêpes suzette for us in the intimate atmosphere of his home. He, the celebrated master, completed that impeccable process just for the two of us in our tracksuits…

What is your typical day at work like?

In the morning, administration. Then, lunch service. In the afternoon, studying and creating the desserts, then tea testing. In the evening, dinner service. A lot of what i have to deal with involves form: studying and managing the front-of-house, ensuring we provide the best service. In this quest for form, i’m helped by having studied – and thoroughly understood – the meaning and purpose of the oriental rituals inherent in tea. Matteo and i have really fallen in love with tea, so much so that we’ve created an almost esoteric – if i may say so – range of teas, truly for enthusiasts and connoisseurs.

How would you describe your patisserie?

My desserts are light, seasonal, centred around a main ingredient that i try to enhance, with little or no sugar. I’m inspired by the various nuances of the word “sweet”, which is in some way linked to gentleness. That is how i would like my creations to be. I, for one, am interested in offering the best possible quality. I can make a very simple chocolate and caramel recipe, without anything else, but using the best possible chocolate and caramel make it a real treat. Going back to desserts, i want to emphasise that for me it is important to let the guest conclude the taste experience in harmony with what they have just consumed, thereby reconfirming the lightness typical of matteo’s dishes.

What are your favourite ingredients? Dishes? Wines?

My preferences change according to the seasons, the climate, or even my mood at the time. Some dishes and wines are more wintry or more summery (i’m certainly not the first person to have said this), but also more optimistic or veiled in melancholy. One thing i can say: for me the sense of smell is decisive. It may sound strange, but if i were forced to choose between tasting a dish or a wine, or just smelling it, i would feel fulfilled by simply breathing in its scent, which i believe to be its true essence.

How would you define your restaurant today? And how would you like it to be?

Today i find it chic, yet cosy. Elegance and style are fundamental, of course. But they need to be combined with a sense of hospitality, with a genuine desire to meet guests and make them feel at ease. Furthermore, i would define it as a green restaurant, given that the naturalness of the food and wine is complemented by the decision to use biodegradable materials wherever possible. How would i like it to be? I would be happy for it to evolve with us, as we progress along our path. Today we are more mature, more confident in what we do, and the restaurant in turn reflects this new dimension of ours.

Do you take a rest from time to time?

For me, rest means eating in other ways, in other worlds. Matteo and i choose our holiday locations according to the dishes and cuisines we want to get to know. Our many trips to france are another opportunity to relax, except for the rather uncomfortable return journey (laughs), as we fill the van to the brim with all the specialities, delicacies and rarities that we’ve managed to find and want our customers to discover. We also buy a large number of cookery books abroad, on pastry, bread and wine. Travelling gives us the opportunity to expand our knowledge and our library.