A disciple of the legendary Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi, this chef with his bashful manner has remained true to his philosophy: “For me it is very important that I continue to be an artisan”
Italian chef Riccardo Camanini’s (Lovere, Bergamo, 1973) domain is located on the banks of the majestic Lake Garda, an exceptional natural environment that seeps into the kitchens of Lido 84, his restaurant. In its rooms, where the key feature is pasta and there is never an empty table, it is common to spot a man with a Buddhist aspect, somewhat shy, moving around in search of new gastronomic objectives. It is Camanini, the chef who each day persists in giving the lie to that popular transalpine saying that “you should never trust a thin cook”.
At the age of 19, Camanini began his career working as a disciple of the legendary chef Gualtiero Marchesi, the first Italian chef to receive three Michelin stars. Next, his restlessness took him to London, to ‘Le Manoir aux Quat Saison’ by Raymond Blanc, and later to Paris, under the direction of Jean Louis Nomicos in ‘La Grand Cascade’. However, he found a place he could call his own next to Lake Garda, where he has been settled ever since.
“I have been working in Lake Garda for more than twenty years. It is a wonderful place that has influenced my cooking a lot, without a doubt. I think the environment is an important element of a style, like childhood or your own story, which is part of your mind, your memories. This area brings back memories of when I was a teenager,” he tells us.
From Marchesi he learned the importance of organisation, “that I needed to reflect more, that every detail counts, that sometimes you only need three ingredients to create a complete dish. It may seem simple, but it is not. I was very young and impetuous at that time and I learned to see things in a more considered, more tasteful way.” He nonetheless recognises that his style is “a little more different than Marchesi’s, more intense.”
To give an example of this philosophy, one of his most celebrated dishes is the ‘Cascio e peppe in vescia’ -rigatoni cooked in a pig’s bladder -, a delicacy which never tastes exactly the same and which “leaves the diner smiling when the bladder is opened and the flavours of the pasta are unlocked.” It is a kind of surprise gift with a theatrical touch, but at the same time a challenge for his team. “It is very complicated to prepare. Inside the bladder you can’t check if the pasta is ‘al dente’, if the sauce is ready. It’s like ordering a shoe from an artisan, he’s never going to make two that are the same,” explains the Italian chef, who admits that behind this creation there was a long process of trial and error until the result was the desired one. A keen student of history, this dish is inspired by a well-known gourmand of ancient Rome. “Senator Marco Casio Atticus was a ‘bon vivant’ of the time. He liked food and women. He also wrote many recipes.”
Simpler, although no less significant, is his dish ‘Spaghettone al burro e lievito’ – spaghetti with butter and brewer’s yeast – which was once described by Alain Ducasse as “the best dish I have ever tasted.”
“A communication problem”
When we explain that in Spain it is usual to cook spaghetti a la carbonara with cream instead of egg or we remind him that in the United States they have abused the pizza to the point of serving it soaked in barbecue sauce, Camanini recognises that “Italian gastronomy has a big communication problem. In the last ten years nothing has been done to improve it, to be honest. It is very important that we reach people, that they understand the message that we Italian chefs wish to convey to them, to use the media such as television, for example,” says Camanini, who will be in attendance at the next Madrid Fusion precisely to tackle this kind of issue.
While Italian cuisine is experiencing a renaissance, this Lombard cook is clear as to his goals. “I want to be at peace with myself. It is very important for me that I continue to be an artisan. I want to continue working every day because I love this job, it’s my dream,” he concludes.