Professional cookery is no longer just a craft. It is officially an art.
Chefs publicise their thought processes and creative philosophies in glossy coffee table books because we no longer just lust after their recipes, we want to know the minds behind them we want to glance into the restaurants where we might never eat.
Ferran Adria , one of the fathers of Modernist Cuisine, explains his creative process in tabulated format with scientific precision. While Adria uses logic flow with creative methods labelled one to three (including steps like “technique concept search”) Gaultiero Marchesi’s code reads like poetry.
Marchesi is one of the most revered Italian chefs. At 82 he still owns three restaurants, was the first non-French chef to achieve a Michelin star, and also the first to achieve three. He is regarded as the father of Modern Italian cuisine, turning regional cuisine into “high cuisine”.
During a recent visit to our Italian partner school ALMA – La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, of which Marchesi is the Dean, we attended an enlightening lecture in which he explained the “network of pathways” that he follows in search of good taste.
In a culinary world where science seems to take centre stage it was refreshing to find art, music and poetry as inspiration for a chef’s creations. The pillars on which Marchesi rests his “Total Cuisine” are harmony, beauty, civilisation, colour, genius, taste, invention, lightness, myth, territory, tradition, truth, simplicity and idea.
In his book titled The Marchesi Code he explains every one of these pillars with a signature dish.
“This book is about the art of gastronomy; it takes us along a pathway that shows us the importance of the knowledge of classical cuisine, tradition and our own cultural roots and of technique as an instrument which is indispensible if we are to rise to the task of turning cuisine into a true art: that of gastronomy.”
Beauty is probably the most famous of his dishes – a saffron risotto garnished with a gold leaf square and served on a black rimmed plate. The recipe is not more than a few lines. It is simple and incredibly striking. “Beauty is a harmonic sensuality that cannot be confused with, even less give rise to, pornography, which appeals to only one sense: gluttonous taste. A cuisine that satisfies only once sense is in its own way ‘pornographic'”, warns Marchesi.
He explains that his minimalist cuisine aims to nourish the body in such a way as to “gratify each of the five senses and at the same time also the intellect.”
Simplicity, knowledge and respect for ingredients are concepts that consistently surface in the lectures as well as his book and even his protégé Daniel Canzian was quoted in the 100th issue of Art Culinaire saying that his mind is his favourite kitchen tool. “He (Marchesi) has taught me about simplicity, about the desire to communicate to the guest with the language of food. Why there is a purpose for every action and that everything can be turned into a learning experience if you only allow yourself to be a student.”
Find your inspiration for food in life, is Marchesi’s advice to the students. Go to museums, look at art, but make sure that you know the techniques of your ingredients before you create. As Marchesi would actually rather be a concert pianist he uses music to explain that it is better to “first become a cook (musician) and then a creator (composer)”.
But he also encourages the youngsters that they should never fear to try new things or to be the first to do something. “Get the spirit and the centre of a dish and work from there.” Knowledge, raw material and technique should be combined to create a dish. “In each of these recipes I have attempted to bear in mind Goethe’s assertion that artists ‘are not those that say something new but those who know how to say a well known thing as if it had never been said before’.”
How does the maestro feel about molecular gastronomy? He’d rather not answer, but then replies that although he understands the appreciation for science; he does not believe that it should be the star of the show. A chef’s skills should be showcased.
What touched me most is the powerful translation of what all chefs aim to do with a plate of food (often without realising): “Although every discipline uses the instruments and materials pertaining to it, the essential component of every artistic practise is the same: the offering up of emotions in poetic form”.