To do contemporary cooking, you have to know everything and forget about everything. First of all, you have to know everything. If you don’t know things, you cannot talk. I’m always thinking about Bob Dylan singing, “The times they are a-changing.” But I cannot evolve tradition if I don’t know the tradition. I cannot do contemporary food if I don’t travel to Tokyo, to Copenhagen, or Lima. What kind of potato? What kind of parmigiano? What kind of fish? How has the tuna been caught? If you don’t understand those kinds of things, touch the ingredients, feel them, you cannot do what we do. If I don’t know everything about balsamic vinegar, if I don’t know what kind of reaction the must has with the cherry wood, or juniper wood…
You have it inside, or you don’t have it. That’s a very important part. You travel with your ears and your eyes open, or you travel to travel. You read a book to learn, or you read a book to read. Very different approach. You look at a painting to do what? To say, “Oh! Van Gogh is so nice. Look at that, it’s The Starry Night.” But you don’t know that Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime because people didn’t understand what he was talking about. That’s the point. Be alert. Go deep into things. If you don’t do that, it’s all superficial.
Well there is nothing superficial about many of the dishes you have created. “Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano” is devoted entirely to the regional parmesan cheese and “An eel swimming up the Po River” traces the culinary history of the Po River Valley. Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?
We compress everything, the passion we have, and from those passions ideas are coming out. You have to know the ingredient, let it in, hug it, caress it, be warm and gentle, and at that point you decide what to do with that ingredient. But we have to talk with the ingredients, we have to hear what they are saying to you. A piece of leftover bread or the most fantastic caviar is the same thing. You have to be alert.