Gastronomy - Tourism

Chefs can learn to play with extra virgin olive oil

Chefs can learn to play with extra virgin olive oil
  • PublishedNovember 21, 2022

“Chefs, even of the highest level, do not realise what they are doing, but above all that they have not understood that with good oil in the kitchen you save money and make people eat better. They link oil to price, some even say it is free!!! They probably have not attended a sensory analysis course and until they do, they will never know what oil can be in cooking’.

Words from Fabio Ferrara, of the Osteria del Tarassaco in Rivisondoli.

So let’s continue along this road and go to Assisi, where we live following in the footsteps of Francis, or with the revolutionary ideas of Elena Angeletti, daughter of the great Giovanni, a sommelier back when wine for many was only ‘white’ or ‘black’. A couple of years ago, Elena (who makes ten and thinks a hundred…), intercepted a young chef Lorenzo Cantoni and put him at the centre of her project in Assisi. Cantoni, born in Umbertide; 34 years old, more than half spent travelling around the kitchens of half the world, after leaving the Professional Hotelier Institute of Città di Castello, accepted the challenge and put into practice his idea of cooking based on oil and varietal diversity. AIRO honoured him in 2021 as the best oil chef, while Città dell’Olio this year awarded ‘Il Frantoio’, restaurant of the Hotel Fontebella Palace in the heart of Assisi, as the best oil restaurant in Italy. We met them seated at the same table in the centre of a beautiful room that opens its gaze over Umbria from the city of Francis.

‘Oil is a unique food and has such characteristics as to be precious in a healthy diet,’ Lorenzo began, ‘which is why I have made it the heart of my cuisine, based essentially on well-being on the plate. I have been studying oil for years, to understand how best to work with it, how to enhance its characteristics and create new dishes; every day I discover and learn something, each variety has a different facet, its own yield, a unique response in the dish, for me all this is fascinating. I really enjoy playing with textures. Technically, oil does not thicken, but I have always struggled to make it thick. Working on its consistency has been a challenge and fun. Today we can say that we have managed to do a lot and find some interesting solutions by working on temperatures. A good starting point for a still very long journey’.

Best Oil Chef of Italy for Airo in 2021, “Il Frantoio” best oil restaurant this year for Città dell’Olio, positive signs and conquering positions. No small satisfaction:

“Which I share with Elena, with Gabriele, Liana and Salvatore in the kitchen, Marco, Antonio and Alberto in the dining room, who have understood our project and are protagonists in its development.

But what is oil for you?

‘For me, oil has never been a seasoning, always the main ingredient.

In the construction of a dish, the inspiration comes from the oil, from there everything else is born. Our customers understand the journey, appreciate the variables related to the different varieties and the evolution that a great oil produces in a dish, eventually someone even asks where they can buy a bottle and transfer the experience to their own home. On the menu we now have 20 oils but the updating is continuous, many producers come to Assisi to let us try the fruit of their work and it excites them to see a dish born from that oil. Oil is overwhelming, it allows us to innovate our tradition based on quality raw materials, ranging from North to South, but keeping our Umbria central.

What oil do you use in the kitchen?

‘What are you doing, provoking me,’ Lorenzo reacts, smiling. ‘For our wellness cuisine we don’t use sautéing, but temperature-controlled cooking, marinating, with the same oils we have in the dining room. To cook or marinate a meat with one oil and then put another in the finish just means that the person doing it doesn’t know the oil and for those who do our job it is very serious. Among the most successful dishes we have ‘Ethical Fois gras’, a different solution from the farms with forced fattening of geese. We have a goose breeder in Bettona, not far from Assisi, we buy them and process the liver in a blend of Umbrian oils to make it fat. The geese are not sick and we eat a healthy product’.

Written By
Alberto Grimelli

Direttore Teatro Naturale