October 3, 2018
The great interpreter of pleasure
Getting to Castel di Sangro – hidden among the remote and craggy mountains of Abruzzo – is a veritable swirl of education. It is also a fundamental part of an initiation process to understand the end result of the synthesis of Niko Romito’s work, upon which he embarked some years ago. Romito, who studied architecture, switched to cooking after being captivated by his family’s trattoria, and his projects are now built on organoleptic sensations. Self-taught and very much attached to this ancient mountainous landscape, he learned by reading, taking cooking classes and working stints with Salvatore Tassa and the Roca brothers until deciding to reinvent the family business. From then, and to his current restaurant, Reale, in an exquisitely refurbished 16th monastery, his culinary path has become ever more essence-focused and streamlined. The restaurant (and hotel) is a reflection of his architectural dreams: Chic minimalism that encapsulates elegant Italian design, it is a magic box where local products and produce sleep, only to awaken on the plates of diners, offering themselves nakedly with no artifice or ruses, showing off a natural grandeur with almost stark sincerity, but whispering of a complex thought process and precision handling. The harmoniousness and simplicity of Romito’s food comes through only when you hear its message. It is then when diners appreciate (and enjoy) the metaphysics that underpin each dish, the honest search, the way the envelope has been pushed, the bitter and acidic flavours, the stereophonics... Niko is the great interpreter of pleasure, borne of the secret language of the local produce and of his habitat. ‘The Absolute Onion’ with parmesan and saffron has, for years, been one of his signature dishes, and is an exciting example of his philosophy. As are his wild (seasonal) herbs with almond ice cream. And his squab with pistachios. Or his cabbage with a touch of kimchi. After spreading his cuisine to Dubai, Shanghai, Rome…Niko has since looked inwards to his own territory, but some of those exotic colours occasionally escape.
Niko, who also has a cooking school and an experimental laboratory, was awarded three Michelin stars in just seven years, invites us on a taxonomic – yet thought provoking and enlightening – exploration of the most intimate essence of Abruzzo. This is when what is local becomes universal...