The Taste Whisperer
ICONIC GOURMAND | Chiara Melani
In just over a year, Aqua Crua has received the Alpe Adria Award for Best Creative Cuisine from Magnar Ben Guide, the Sparkling Menu from Villa Franciacorta, and its first Michelin star (at the end of 2015). “Never be commonplace,” Chef Baldessari explains in the following interview with us.
Giuliano Baldessari – you are an artist, magician, and illusionist. Which is closest to reality?
To be honest, I don’t consider myself any of those. More than anything I feel like an instigator, in the sense that I love overcoming my limits, changing the standards of cuisine that are imposed by personal tendencies, until I almost transform myself into a different me. I don’t like banality, so because of this I’m always looking for new emotions.
What training have you had?
I come from Roncegno Terme, once an important health spa for the province of Trento, full of hotels and restaurants. After middle school, I did a year of mechanical training at Enaip [an Italian trade school], but I didn’t like it. I went to do seasonal work at Da Mario, at the Marter station. Here, I discovered a passion for cooking, and I enrolled at a hotel management school in Levico, where I attended a three-year course for “Hospitality Macrosector.” Giorgio Nardelli noticed me, at the time he coached chefs for the nationals and he put me to the test, and he sent me to Germany for three years before bringing me to work with him in Bolzano. After completing my studies, I gained some experience with different establishments and cruise ships, but my first great experience was as a chef de partie at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, where I stayed for two years. Then I moved to France to work two seasons for Marc Veyrat as demi chef de partie, first at Auberge de L’Eridan in Annecy and then at La Ferme de mon Père, in Mègeve. There I met Massimiliano Alajmo, who I started working for as sous-chef at the Calandre for the next 10 years. In February 2014, I opened Aqua Crua, my restaurant in Barbarano Vicentino.
You have had great teachers: who has influenced your dishes?
The three main figures in my training were definitely Marc Veyrat, Aido Moroni, and Massimiliano Alajmo. From a personal point of view, all three were fundamental and they all gave me so much. From a cooking perspective, Marc Veyrat taught me not to be afraid to take risks, and Aimo Moroni taught me continual pursuit and the passion for quality ingredients. From Massimiliano, I learned the concept of play, and that the mind can take cuisine beyond.
Essentiality is seen even in management of spaces? Tells us about your kitchen…
My kitchen is one of sharing. Hence the choice to open my kitchen to visiting guests. The brigade moves in the kitchen that is directly in the dining hall. When I opened my restaurant, I wanted to create a free environment, without barriers, so that if there were only a few diners they wouldn’t feel so alone! But my cuisine is also simple, consisting of few ingredients, where subtracting is better than adding.
Can we define your philosophy as one of vision and foresight?
It isn’t either: it is simply my life’s journey, one that comes from my personal experience. It is being able to photograph something the moment it happens, and translate it into taste. As I said before, I hate banality. I like working through curiosity – both my own and the curiosity of the diners. I can appear to be visionary precisely because my curiosity projects me forward, always looking for a different, riper taste. I love the flavors of ripeness – that is, acidic and bitter. And I also really like creating dishes that make whoever eats them reflect and think.
Aqua Crua – why in Barbarano Vicentino? This restaurant is defined as transparent…
It was a bit by chance. I found someone who believed in me and my project, and I decided that Barbarano Vicentino would be the right place to open Aqua Crua. I wanted to see if people would come looking for me! I firmly believe that the geographical location affects a restaurant’s success only up to a certain point. Aqua Crua is a restaurant that I created in my image and likeness, so I can say that it resembles me. For better or worse, I am very straightforward person, I always say what I think. And Aqua Crua is also like this: transparent and authentic.
You are a Top Chef who exaggerates, a talent show judge. Tell us about your television debut.
I was born a cook and I hope to die as such. Television has given me the opportunity to make my way of interpreting cuisine known, and this is a great thing, but my focus is on taste. From a personal point of view, the experience has served me, because competition always makes you grow and I have gotten so much from meeting with the other judges, competitors, and the entire production staff.