Matteo, when and where did you meet Elena?
During aperitivo time at a friend’s bar. I was chatting with him – no doubt about food – when a young woman pleasantly joined our conversation. I was immediately struck by her alert eyes, her interest in the topic, and – little by little, as she spoke – her positivity. And also the gentle but direct way she put herself forward. I’d already guessed a couple of things about her that day: her underlying sweetness and her… Stubbornness! (laughs) and here we are. Her talking about me. Me talking about her. Both of us illustrating the “garibaldi project”, which has seen us working hard (it has to be said) during this difficult period, right here in vicenza, in one of the world’s most beautiful squares.
What were the key points in your training?
Rather than points, i’d prefer to talk about people, as the quality of relationships and human exchanges is what really makes the difference. I discovered the fantastic world – in the sense of “fairy tales” – of cooking at a very young age. My grandmother led me by the hand, step by step, through aromas, textures and colours that i’ve never been able to or wanted to abandon. Of course, later on another person who played a decisive role in my development was jean-claude fugier, who for many years was the right-hand man of alain ducasse and also of paul bocuse. It was with him that i came of age professionally, becoming aware of the precise form my culinary expression would take.
And turning points in your professional life?
I would mention three. Winning the 2014 edition of the reality cooking show hell’s kitchen italia, which gave me a degree of visibility that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. The many years of work alongside a master like jean-claude fugier, in asia, which gave me the opportunity to learn a new method and gain a thorough understanding of asian and french cuisine, as well as clarifying the concept of excellence. The third turning point came when elena and i turned the lights on in our premises, staging our ideas on a daily basis. And they don’t just regard the kitchen. We like to look after every detail in person, from the marble tables to the plates and glasses, before entrusting the implementation to professionals, to talented and trusted artists.
And then we have other people’s tables.
Of course. For elena and me, eating and drinking is a hobby as well as something related to our profession. We really enjoy it, we relax by going where food and wine call us. I love anne-sophie pic’s style, her use of citrus fruits, her elegance and lightness in cooking. The oriental touch that takao takano succeeds in giving to classic french dishes is something that closely concerns me. A dinner at victor arguinzoniz’s asador extebarri is unmissable, due to the simplicity of his offerings, his unique ability to handle wood and embers, to modulate temperatures, his mastery of fire.
What is your typical day at work like?
I contact external suppliers. I check the incoming raw ingredients. I visit neighbouring suppliers. Then, i work in the kitchen. It’s up to me to transform what comes into the restaurant into a series of dishes: but first and foremost, it’s up to me to check what comes in. Otherwise, it would be pointless cooking something that’s not perfectly suited to what i have in mind, in terms of quality.
How would you define your cuisine?
Instinctive. In my opinion, everything that is inherent to creating is all about intuition. Otherwise, it would be enough to simply copy existing recipes exactly as they are. I adopt a complex approach, sometimes finding myself at a crossroads between different cuisines, such as asian and french, but in the end i have to “feel” the dish and make it mine. I don’t like exhibitionism at all, anything but. In any case, i really like asian inspiration. Another thing i love is lightness, at every level. If light is the tone with which i create my recipes, the dish itself has to be light in the same way.
What are your favourite ingredients? Dishes? Wines?
Let’s say that mood really affects preferences, meaning that it also affects the dishes i decide on. Elena complains that she often has to reprint menus in a hurry because i’ve decided to make changes based on my feelings at the time… However, i’m interested in every ingredient. I have a preference for fresh, daily and seasonal produce. For me, the wines themselves have to be natural: this research has yielded surprising results over time, and together with elena we’ve managed to discover local producers of the highest calibre.
How would you define your restaurant today? And how would you like it to be?
Today it is in transit. Evolution, change – they’re everything for me. I don’t like standing still at all, and then i want guests to find something new every time. At least that is what i would expect when visiting a restaurant. I like to convey the sense of a quest, of something moving. How would i like it to be? A food and wine playground! Earlier i was talking about research, but it’s not something that has to be taken too seriously. The playful aspect is the best part of being a chef. Elena and i consider ourselves very lucky, because our work necessarily involves having fun.
Do you take a rest from time to time?
I don’t see this as being clear cut. When you love what you do, the need to rest is relative. We don’t really disconnect even when we’re on holiday. We love discovering dishes that are new to us, talking to chefs. I especially like to see markets, fruit and vegetables, local produce. Every market around the world is different – the colours, the vendors’ voices – this has always fascinated me. If you’re referring to something else, to passions cultivated in my spare time, well, i read books – about cooking! – and i find it very relaxing to look after and cuddle my dogs.