A modern study in classicism

The 2019 Miele One To Watch recognises the exceptional qualities of Lido 84 in Lake Garda, Italy.

On the western shores of Lake Garda sits Ristorante Lido 84 – a place considered as Italy’s biggest open secret by its clientele of well-heeled insiders. Converted from an old outdoor swimming pool in 2014, it started as a humble space run by two brothers – 47 year-old chef Riccardo Camanini and 46-year-old co-owner Giancarlo Camanini, who manages the front of house. Within six months of opening, they were bestowed their first Michelin star. Today, Miele is proud to recognise the brother’s continued efforts in advancing the evolution of Italian cuisine and hospitality through the 2019 Miele One To Watch award – one that celebrates emerging global talent.

Lido 84 stands out with its inimitable style of food and hospitality. From Riccardo comes a unique cuisine that is at once radically modernist yet comfortingly familiar.

The 47 year-old is a huge champion of artisanal ingredients and makes it his mission to seek them out – be it a local cheese or tomato sauce, made in traditional ways that are fast disappearing. He also has a passion for forgotten dishes: the signature item at Lido 84 is a Roman dish of cacio e pepe ‘en Vessie’ – a simple cheese and pepper pasta cooked within an inflated pig’s bladder and – presented with fine dining flourish at the tableside. Speaking with Miele, he also enthused about reviving cooking pike, live from Lake Carda, au bleu. “The French technique (of cooking a fish instantly after dispatching it, in vinegared water), even though common in the Fifties and incredibly romantic, is almost lost because many chefs prefer to cook in controlled low temperature. The method is very simple but requires for the fish to be live until the point it is about to be cooked, and so not many people do it anymore. Yet, the taste of a fish cooked au bleu is much more intense in flavour than a fish cooked in a plastic bag in low temperature.”

Riccardo has often spoken about the importance of cooking by feel, and has famously banned timers from his kitchen. Yet despite his penchant for the romantic, classical ways, and a passion for time-honoured flavours, Riccardo does not limit himself to conventions. A veteran chef who has worked under the tutelage of masters such as Gualtiero Marchesi, Raymond Blanc, Jean-Louis Nomicos and Alain Ducasse, Riccardo is one with his own distinct style.

A subtle revolution

At the recent Madrid Fusion, he demonstrated how dry pasta – cooked for 84 hours – can have the same “al dente” texture as that boiled conventionally for 11 minutes. “Italians want their pastas al dente, but with dry pasta, it is just pasta that is not really cooked in the middle, and is hard to digest. I wanted to think of a new way to cook pasta so that people could better digest it, yet still have the same texture that they like,” he shares.

One day, observing how a piece of old bread on the counter has gone crusty – almost like it had been returned to the oven – he got inspired and started studying how carbohydrates react in different conditions. Eventually, he devised a whole new method of cooking pasta. The dry pasta is steamed for 12 hours at precisely 85 degrees Celcius, and the carbohydrates are softened and broken down for easy digestion. Then it is cooled at 3 degrees Celcius for another 12 hours, during which – in a process called retrogradation – the carbohydrate starts lose a little of the moisture and ‘caramalise’ and realign, thus lending the pasta a chewiness. By repeating the process for seven days, he creates a pasta that has a consistent toothsome bite throughout, yet is easy for the body to digest. Furthermore, Riccardo’s 84-hour pasta also boasts more intense flavours as they have not been leached out in the conventional boiling process.

In a nation proud of their traditional culture, where reinvention of well-loved classics is considered sacrilegious by some, Riccardo has managed to find a fine balance between satisfying both his clients and his personal pursuit for new definitions of perfection.

“Taste is an anthropological product. Our palates are grown out of our life experiences, our background, our heritage. Thus people are much more receptive when presented with familiar flavours that resonate with their personal taste memories,” explains Riccardo of his approach. So, even when trying to change something which he thinks isn’t right, such as eating hard-to-digest al dente pasta, he does so through gentle persuasion.

“I like to give my diners an opportunity to have an in-depth look into what they think they know, and surprise them. But I am also aware of the fact that they are also here at the restaurant to feed their palate, so I still give them the classic tastes that they know – but with a difference.”