Thermostat bath for vacuum cooking, digital thermometer, pacojet and hold or mat for very slow cooking, planetary blender, sheeter: in the kitchen of Stefano Masanti, chef of Cantinone in Sondrio province, technology, together with the reduction of the environmental impact, plays a central role.
The universe of chefs is constantly evolving and starry chefs’ kitchens are places of experimentation that concretize food potentialities in creative manner. In this panorama, the importance of the tools used grows hand in hand with the innovation and the technology provided by the market. Aware of operating inside an important evolutionary process, chefs dialogue and join to protect the quality of their menus. This precisely happens in the case of Charming Italian Chef or of Slowcooking. We have asked the opinion of one of the promoters of these initiatives, the chef Stefano Masanti, patron of the restaurant “il Cantinone” at Madesimo, in Sondrio province, but also promoter of relevant gastronomic projects in Napa Valley, in California.
Your chef job is volcanic and creative not only in the gastronomic ambit in the strictest sense of the term. Can you tell us the meaning of the collaboration with associations like Charming Italian Chef or Slowcooking”?
Charming Italian Chef is the association of high-quality Italian chefs that extends from my village, Madesimo (in Lombardy), down to Sicily. I joined this association due to my personal need of dialoguing and exchanging information with colleagues who share the value of the great Italian cuisine, its techniques, its seasonality and its local differences, but who look also at the future with new ideas, new instruments and techniques. Finally, and I am very happy, I have made excellent friends. Slowcooking stems from one of my ideas: networking chefs, at the beginning only from Valtellina, then from the entire Lombard territory, to share the interest in the use of local products and in their recovery, granting producers durable purchases in time, and in sufficient quantities to make the local production sustainable in economic, environmental and biodiversity terms. With great satisfaction, Slowcooking has notably grown over the last few years, succeeding in preserving some productions and starting others, which had by now disappeared.
What is the meaning of technology in the kitchen for you?
I have always been a great passionate of technology. I was one of the first who used the vacuum cooking technology in Italy, already 18 years ago. Each new cooking tool, each innovation arouses lively interest for me and it generally finds a space in my kitchen. Innovation means several things for me. I like creating new recipes, new combinations or consistencies. I like very much, however, remaining faithful to a traditional recipe, preserving its original taste but maybe improving the execution process, trying to obtain a tastier, digestible and visually attractive final dish. I remember my grandmother’s minestrone, with at least 15 different vegetables. I still prepare it but I cook each vegetable separately, to achieve the right consistency and colour of each ingredient. The whole is reassembled just before serving the dish, with a very rich vegetable broth.
Is it important that the use of household appliances, intervenes in balanced manner in the dish preparation, not to alter tastes?
A raw matter of the territory must be environment-friendly and respect man (work respect, safety, environment healthiness and economic sustainability). Not less important, the local raw material must be good. Cooking, blast-chilling and conservation must be meticulously studied to achieve the best from the product, in terms of taste, healthiness, conservation and, once more, environment protection.
Concerning this, household appliances are very useful but, as for everything, their use must not be excessive.
You can chop the parsley with a blender, for instance, but the knife works better and you do not waste energy, both to chop and to wash the tool; the drying of herbs is a very interesting conservation method and then of product use, dryers are very comfortable and practical but using them to dry some leaves instead of a good quantity results again in a waste of energy; moreover, the vacuum cooking is a very interesting technique. We should however keep in mind that, apart from particular cases, it implies the plastic use and therefore we must dispose and recycle it in correct and conscious manner.
What household appliances are not missing in your kitchen and what would you like “to patent”?
My kitchen hosts endless household appliances, from the thermostat bath for vacuum cooking to the digital thermometer, from the pacojet to hold or mat for very slow cooking. The microwave oven as well as Bimby, the trivalent oven. From the planetary blender to the sheeter. From the chocolate tempering machine to the extraction centrifuge. From the dryer to the salamander. From the smoker to the Minipimer.
I would like to implement a kitchen fully made of stone from my territory (excellent for plate cooking), working with chips deriving from the cleaning of woods, a sort of central stove, very common until around 20 twenty years ago but fuelled by diesel. An eco-sustainable stove, able to cook but also to produce hot water for all various uses in the kitchen and electrical energy to operate household appliances. I have studied and devised it for some years now and I hope that in the future I will at least make it operational, or even patent it.
You work both in Italy and in the United States. Are there significant differences in the way of conceiving technology in the kitchen?
Surprisingly, there is much more technology in Italy, perhaps because food plays a central role for us and the value that we, Italians, recognize to taste and food preparation is not comparable with any other culture, with the exception of the Japanese one and partly the French culture. In the USA, technology is mainly used to save time and to make a process more efficient. Not necessarily to improve taste, consistency and presentation. In Italy, cooking is passion, tradition, research, manual and artisan skills and conviviality. In America, it is instead more business, speed and need of nourishing. In Italy, we still cook a lot at home, too. In the United States, they talk a lot about food but almost nobody cooks. The use of household appliances is linked with the regeneration of food bought at the supermarket rather than with the preparation of a meal.