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Modern Tastes

The nice guy who Scotland really likes

Lunch with Fabio Campoli Food Designer and Masterchef

Even the cold rain of Scotland has not managed to stop the most anticipated lunch break, with Fabio Campoli, top Italian master chef, pledged to bring his different approach to the diverse cultures of food, at one of the Tony Macaroni chain's restaurants, in Edinburgh.

You can see him in action from one of the tables where we are sitting, coaching some of the chefs, always smiling and in love with his work, encouraging and strengthening the know-how of each trainee to experiment with new sensory journeys; Because love, passion and resourcefulness, combined with a boundless, almost mathematical knowledge of food in all its forms and visions, demarcates the personality of that guy next door, on tiptoe who, smile after smile, broadcast after broadcast, hit after hit, has managed to achieve an international popularity.

A fact confirmed by the numerous thematic portals and blogs where each appearance or recipe of Fabio's accounts for numbers of views that are nothing short of astronomical. Talking like an honest person, and being always open to accept new challenges but, above all, being a professional with great creativity and an uncommon spirit of sharing hasled him, along with other enthusiasts, to found the ‘Circle of Gourmets’, an organization that since the time of its Constitution, aims to propose another idea about the ‘good things’ and to eliminate various barriers and boundaries so that ‘Made in Italy’ might  even extend into another concept of ‘Made in The World’ where ideas, tastes, aromas, design, redesign, projects and events, new trends and lifestyles to share, all the pleasures and the stories of good food beyond any geographical or linguistic-limit.

But who really is Fabio Campoli, where he was born and where does he lives; what does he do? Fabio Campoli, was born under the sign of Leo in Frascati (Rome) in 1971. He currently lives and works in Rome, where his Circle of Gourmets is composed of trusted staff who help and assist the chef de cuisine in his numerous activities, from consulting for companies, staff training, team building activities, drafting and publication of publishing products, the preparation of teaching materials for chefs studying for  a master's degree ... well, so on and so forth ... provided it is always around the gastronomy for 360°.

Finally he sits and as always, smiling, makes us feel at home while being away from his Rome. He makes us feel at ease and, almost immediately, begins a bit to tell us about himself.

 

Hello Fabio, thanks for this lunchtime. Just to get to the heart of our conversation, we would like to ask you some questions exclusively for Tablet 2.0.

 

1) Food especially today, at least, has experienced an exponential evolution from the preparation of daily dishes from healthy and tasty ingredients, to become a real lifestyle trend to that of the major fashion designers. According to your professional point of view what has changed so much the notion of a cook into a designer of dishes that are well presented and above all good to eat?

F.C. During my long years of experience, I really think that my professional strenght has been a real new vision of recipes, full of many things that surround them regardless of the doses: this matter brought me to specialize and develop a concrete passion for “gastronomic scenography”, having the great opportunity to start this job first in Rai, the main Italian TV channel, where I had the task of setting beautiful tables for the morning programs. Then, the other great opportunity came as I was asked to work on prestigious movie sets, to make ancient banquet scenes revive, often with monumental food masterpieces.

But also the aesthetic side of food was a parenthesis  of my career  as "innovated chef ". 

And so my personal evolution has been moving towards knowledge of raw materials, lands, food chemistry and physics, for the better understanding and management of cooking techniques and nutrients in the ingredients, then again to the reading of ancient texts and the discovery of a real "story" that hides under every traditional dish that might come to mind.

So, my conclusion is that the key of the activities’ enlargement for the figure of a chef, in any chosen direction, is always inherent  to the thirst for culture. And the more we have, on several fronts, the better it is.

2) Let's talk about prices at the table, a sore issue in many restaurants, especially in other territories. Let's agree that many dishes on menus in many areas of daily food consumption in Italy are rural in origin and still taste of family traditions but are offered at prohibitive prices. It is true that the Italian Consumers Association, for example, identified an estimated 40% price increase over the last four years, resulting in a failure to control the profit margins, of several catering operations to target the middle-high and higher end customer. Why is all this happening again, form your professional view, if it is true that food and traditions are still some of the strongest of the connectors that bring us together? Don't you think that this could harm the dissemination of new cultures and gastronomic trends in other markets?

F.C. The question you expose, I think is a big problem both in Italy and abroad. In fact, some Italian or foreign restaurateurs use to increase their prices even for a simple dish of "buffalo" mozzarella  and fresh tomato, spending the name of “Made in Italy” exclusively to their advantage, when maybe a customer actually finds in the pot anything compared to what is written on the menu (qualitatively speaking).

The same, of course, also happens abroad. In fact, one of the projects I am working on with the Circolo dei Buongustai (Circle of Connoisseurs) and the Scottish group Tony Macaroni is to introduce the culture and quality that lies beyond the recipe to both employees and customers. At each corner of cities, too many commercial activities with worrying Italian sounding names are springing up, which can only create "confusion" in the spreading of our gastronomic tradition, but this also happens for other cultures, whose symbolic dishes in the world often have just little to do with the original versions of the country. Apart from the negative sides, I’d like to underline that the table and the kitchen will always be considered true connectors, among people, emotions, knowledge. That’s the distinctive feature of the act of eating, emotionally charged, and of what we will never stop to desire, the "food globalization". A concept that it is not at all modern, but, in all likelihood, more ancient than the discovery of America.

In this game of cultures that mingles among countries, dishes and diners, it’s role of cooks and restaurateurs  to participate and share both knowledge and quality, implementing seriousness, professionalism and especially the communication skills of their own staff to customers, that in this kind of current "chaos" will be able to make a difference and reveal to customers the real culture of flavor and taste, beginning to learn, since the palate, how to distinguish the true from the fake.

3) Let's talk about your Food Designer profession. Eating with our eyes, especially in your case, has become a real brand of your profile as a master chef. Where ends exactly does your identity as a chef end and where is artistic expression is allowed? If you eat food with your eyes, what happens then to the palate? Do they  become, more or less, the  enemies of each other?

F.C. As I just explained, my current activities are less related to food design than in the past, and if I choose to do this is because it is a task that I have had for years, thanks to a strong prior experience, but still antecedent to the career choices I made in 2006, becoming  president of the Circle of Connoisseurs, which I founded with three other members, and today bring my activities to rotate around a much larger world, which goes beyond food design while still meeting him, sometimes. Because between the eye and the palate there is no enemy, but only a marriage of senses ... providing that one is always up to the expectations of the other.

"Food Design" is therefore a term that takes me back to a beautiful past, that has given me so much and that I will never deny. But it was just the springboard of the "change of activity" of a chef who wanted to give a new interpretation to his profession.

4) your dishes, but in your case, we prefer to think of them as  veritable gastronomic scenarios, have appeared in major international films. Who has chosen for these important commissions the artist of the table Fabio Campoli, and why? What does Fabio posess that others working in the same field do not have?

F.C. That’s right, I have had the luck and the great opportunity to work on the set of major film productions, from Mission Impossible 3, to Eat, Pray and Love and the great TV series Rome and The Borgias. But I want to emphasize that it has been not only a great creative experience, but especially a management and organization one, sometimes I dare to say “mathematic”. A serious work, and not only at high levels, is the resulting of concreteness and reliability that you can transmit to the customers. These are the real skills, in addition to imagination and culinary skills, that working in movie production helped me to develop, leading to these successes and beyond, from the world of media to the organization of major events and ideation of several gastronomic projects.

5) Loves and jealousies. Even your work, but especially your work, can tap into a competitive environment that is very often a bit uncomfortable. The accredited master chef could see you more as a very different kind of professional; still others as an enemy to ward off. In short, if you were a cartoon, just like those "afraid of Roger Rabbit", who could now be afraid of Fabio Campoli?

F.C. The truth is that I don’t feel properly belonging to the category of chefs, although I prefer to identify myself in some kind of " customer-chef ", always putting myself in the diners’ shoes. I developed a profession far from having a traditional restaurant, in fact I have a kitchen but I prefer to identify it as a "creative laboratory". Over the years, in addition, I have worked with universities, lecturers, speakers of conferences, and my own staff has transformed itself through the years from a brigade of brilliant kitchen school students to a team of young graduates with knowledge and skills in marketing, communication , drafting, computer sciences, and everything a real office as that of the Circle of Connoisseurs may need. And this explains why I feel today also far from that air of competing among chefs.

So... who's afraid of Fabio Campoli? Maybe it's Fabio Campoli to be afraid of himself. The fear that I often merge with hope, is in fact that someone will (not) be able to grasp the real meaning of my path and work, which wants nothing more than to be able to give a boost to the importance of culture and knowledge for new young talent of catering. The culture in life makes the difference.

6) Yours is, indeed, a work of training new professionals and then, possible new colleagues. What are the ingredients that you would you recommend to other young people who decide to follow your route? What are the hardships and difficulties to be tackled before reaching more or less similar results to yours?

F.C. Besides a unavoidable "rapprochement with culture",  to which I have just invited aspiring cooks, my advice to young people does not take more than the name of "the will of paying dues": an expression that may seem obvious, but today, as I’m often involved in consulting for the opening of new restaurants and their staff training,  I would say that it seems a “forgotten” concept, in a world where everything seems increasingly "due to anybody" without hearing the need to prove first what they’re made of. To the young people I would really be able to transmit, in addition to my culinary techniques, the importance of perseverance and dedication, self-control and sense of responsibility at work, because I firmly believe that these are the essential and distinctive qualities in a world where finding a job is becoming even more difficult and selective.

Moreover, I’d like to advice the youth also not to be charmed by myths, from cooking schools that promise rapid learning in return for substantial investment: for a chef, just like for other thousand jobs, the true experience is given by the daily living in kitchen, with a brigade deftly juggling between the many adventures that characterize life in the entire restaurant world.

7) Just like the association of people with signs of the Zodiac, if Fabio Campoli was one ingredient, what would it be? And which of the many Fabio Campoli could become an unforgettable dish?

F.C. If I were an ingredient? Just let me think: I feel just like ... rice! A basic cereal, simple, humble, with a "neutral" taste, that can be transformed, according to the situations and imagination, in a thousand recipes, from soups, to pilaw to a most elegant and velvety risotto.

And for an unforgettable risotto, I would choose a pairing with broad beans and Pecorino cheese, enhanced with a drizzle of honey and a touch of lavender. A great combination for a dish full of tastes from my area, Lazio region in Italy, helping tradition to become surprising.

8) The circle of Gourmets: Who they are, what they do and why they were born, in view of the fact that Slow Food is already an historical reality? What is your specific involvement in this Association and why is it that lovers of good food and good company might choose to follow you?

F.C. Il Circolo dei Buongustai, that saw its birth in 2006, is the ultimate expression of a new unit, which presents itself as one of the main Italian gastronomic R&D, consultancy, marketing, communication and advertising agency. The staff works 360° about culinary world, and they all implement their own ideas within an innovative structure, which is a modern and functional kitchen, equipped in every detail, that does not serve creations as dishes on a classical restaurant table, but on the tables of our annex offices, where ideas evolve from recipes to commercial projects.

And today, thanks to the great renowned professionalism, Il Circolo dei Buongustai has been able to take advantage of various media to spread the Italian food tradition, our ideals and a real new cooking style. Because at Circolo dei Buongustai cooking is not a purpose, but a tool, to help knowing and communicating international food cultures, to advice and catch the attention of people, or even to build events, projects and activities like real stories to tell our customers.

The Circle of Connoisseurs is not born to be in competition with other associations, but what sets us apart is our philosophy, inherent in living privately and professionally always "around good things", which means in the name of ethics, respect and constant comparison to anyone cooperating with us. And this is also the first reason why we constantly invite people to follow our activities, for the seriousness with which we do our work, and to be able to give an always new interpretation, flexible to different forms of communication and opportunities of gastronomic culture.

9) Like the uncertain Hamlet (To be Or Not To Be ...), we would like to conclude with two fateful questions: "Restaurant or No restaurant etc..? This Is The Question ... " Today, every self-respecting master chef, owns at least one if not a chain of restaurants. In your case, not even one; how much is this a frustration and how much a  liberation, if you think about the hard work of the stove?

F.C. Not to have a restaurant was a choice, but that doesn’t mean I do not carry out my work in the kitchen, more or less intensely, depending on the type of customer I am working with. But, as I shift from consulting for opening new restaurants (then testing new recipes to be included in the menu), to the monthly photo shoots for magazines, to book writing and to recipes television production, I can assure you that I step even now several hours in my kitchen.

It’s sure that my hours of cooking pass  in an alternative way, not to produce food for a room but to cook dishes to be enjoyed now, now to be photographed, now to be modified and design basing on the specific request of a customer.

Being out of the restaurant world? It’s anything but a frustration, because I’m inside it anyway, and because I love both my job as " different chef " and the people who supported my new vision, that is my team at my side nowadays, as we reached together many objectives and satisfactions.

My release, on the other hand, was found in my own distinction.

10) Stay with the  theme of work, how was the official evening for the presentation of the Expo 2015 in Milan in Glasgow? Could you tell us what were the joys and the pains?

F.C. It was an unforgettable evening, and we were pleased of the great welcome and satisfaction received from the Scots, from the professionals of the beautiful structure of the Glasgow Science Center, where the event took place, to the  400 dinner guests that complimented each for a different dish. That translates to me in the joy of having been able to satisfy the tastes of everyone.

Yes, I know that usually you tend to tell only the beauty of experiences ... That’s what I will do today. I apologize, but, temperamentally, I tend to take the "negative" just as a new experience to improve myself in the future.

 

Chef fabio campoli’s recipe

BRoad beans and pecorino cheese risotto, scented with mixed flower honey and lavender

Ingredients for 4 servings:

 

Vegetable broth

1lt

Arborio rice

280g

Fresh broad beans

600g

Pecorino romano PDO cheese

80g

Frascati White Wine DOC

½ glass

Butter

20g

Softened onion

15g

Mixed flower honey

10g

Lavender

n. 6 small flowers

Extravirgin olive oil

30g

White pepper grains

as needed

 

Method

For the softened onion

Chop the onion finely with a knife, then put it in a casserole and add 40g of extravirgin olive oil and 60g of water. Cover with a lid and cook at low heat for about 20 minutes.  Water needs to evaporate and onions have to be translucent. Adjust with salt just in the end.

 

For the risotto

Boil the broad beans in a plenty of water, and, as they’re ready, leave them to rest in their broth, as long as they become warm. Then, peel them carefully and keep them aside.

  • Proceed preparing a classic vegetable broth. As it’s ready, filter it and keep it aside.
  • In a casserole pour honey and let it caramelize a little bit.
  • Then, add rice and lavender, toasting well this ingredients stirring on the low fire.
  • Add in the casserole the softened onion and then pour the white wine, until it evaporates.
  • Now add the hot vegetable broth and continue cooking the rice for about 12 minutes (total).
  • Meanwhile, blend with a mixer ½ ladle of hot vegetable broth with the grated Pecorino cheese.
  • Add extra virgin olive oil gradually while blending, to obtain a well emulsified sauce.
  • As 10 minutes of cooking pass, add the peeled broad beans in the risotto. Add also more broth if necessary.
  • By the end of cooking, move the rice from the heat, and let it rest with a lid on for 2 minutes.
  • Then, add the pecorino cream and the grinded pepper.
  • Finish the risotto creaming it with some cubes of frozen butter, then serve immediately.
     

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