Gualtiero Marchesi
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Gualtiero Marchesi

Even though the age-old debate about whether cooking is an art or a science rages on, when Italian chef and restaurant owner Gualtiero Marchesi, founder of Italy's nuova cucina (‘new cuisine'), says it is both, you can believe him. The first non-Frenchman to receive the coveted

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Thu 22 Nov 2012 1:00 AM

Even though the age-old debate about whether cooking
is an art or a science rages on, when Italian chef and restaurant owner
Gualtiero Marchesi, founder of Italy’s nuova cucina (‘new cuisine’),
says it is both, you can believe him. The first non-Frenchman to receive the
coveted three Michelin stars, he was also the first chef ever to return the
third star when, in 2008, the Michelin Guide took his other two stars away from
him. In doing so, he openly questioned the way gastronomy guides attribute
points to restaurants, provoking a huge scandal within the culinary world.
Undaunted, he again caused controversy in 2011 by becoming the first celebrity
chef to create three dishes for a fast-food chain. His development of two
Italian-style hamburgers and a dessert for McDonald’s horrified foodie purists,
who bemoaned that he had ruined his reputation by ‘capitulating’ to ‘the
enemy.’

 

It
took years of training in the restaurant business before Marchesi became a
culinary innovator and superstar. It was only after experimenting and applying
the culinary techniques used in haute cuisine to traditional Italian
dishes, and after constantly researching imaginatively fresh and light flavours
mixed with refined simplicity, colour, aroma and equilibrium, that he put
perfection on a plate.

 

In an interview, he explained his
philosophy saying that ‘everyone loves the food they grew up with, region by
region. Then there is haute cuisine. Many claim they do it, but in
reality, they disappoint their clients with overly complicated recipes.
Instead, the avant-garde chef is a conservative who looks to the future: ‘But
we must never lose our memories of the past. We eat our century, that which our
culture produces.’ His signature dishes-a saffron risotto topped with a leaf of
edible gold, an open ravioli and cuttlefish in ink-are testimony to this.

 

Unimpressed by flashy TV chefs,
Marchesi prefers to be called a cook rather than a chef. Born in Milan on March
19, 1930, he was the child of hoteliers who owned the Albergo Mercato and
restaurant in San Zenone Po, in the province of Pavia. After learning the
rudiments of his trade in the family business, he completed his training in
Switzerland, first at the Kulm restaurant in St. Moritz and then at hotel
management school in Lucerne (1948-1950). Following a period back home, he
moved to France to further hone his skills in such top restaurants as the
Ledoyen in Paris, Le Chapeau Rouge in Dijon and the Troisgros in Roanne. Back
in Italy again in 1977, he started his own high-end restaurant in Milan, which
earned its first Michelin star just seven months after it opened and a second
star a year later.

 

In 1993, Marchesi moved his
restaurant to Franciacorta. It is part of a luxury hotel, the Locanda
l’Albereta of Erbusco, situated in the vineyard-covered Lombardy hills, not far
from Lake Iseo, about an hour by train from Milan. In 1996, to expand and
control his brand internationally, also within the restaurants opened under his
name in select locations around the world, he set up a holding company,
Gualtiero Marchesi Trademark S.r.l. Then, in May 2008, he launched his latest
restaurant, Il Marchesino, inside the Scala Theatre complex in Milan.

 

 At 82, with no intention of retiring any time
soon, the sprightly and bespectacled Marchesi is also author of numerous cook
books (unfortunately, few in English). He is married to Antonietta, a musician (early on in his career, he dreamt of becoming a concert
pianist himself). They have two children, five grandchildren and live at
Albereta. The numerous prizes and awards conferred on him include both the
title of Cavaliere (1986) and Commendatore (1990) of the Italian
Republic; the Ambrogino d’Oro, Milan’s highest award (1986) and, in 1990, then French Culture
Minister Jack Lang made him a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
More recently, in spring 2010, the Castello Sforzesco in Milan housed an
exhibition focused on him; it later travelled to the European Parliament in
Brussels.

 

Over the years, having mentored
such younger and now-famous chefs as Carlo Cracco, Davide Oldani and Dante
Boccuzzi, it was not surprising when, in 2004, Marchesi became dean of the
Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana (ALMA; www.alma.scuolacucina.it),
headquartered at the Palazzo Ducale of Colorno (Parma), or, in 2006, when he
established the Italian Culinary Academy in New York. With his legacy in mind,
in 2010, he also created the Fondazione Gualtiero Marchesi to teach children
the arts through taste (http://tinyurl.com/btyyogr).

 

By using scientific methods, cook
and music-lover Marchesi made his cuisine the art form through which he
expresses himself. Long may he scientifically continue to ‘compose’ his
mouth-watering morsels.

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