Food talk: Ettore Bocchia talks about molecular cuisine

He has been defined as a revolutionary who overturned the approach to the kitchen. Ettore Bocchia, founder and top authority of molecular cuisine, is a person of discreet charm who can also explain complex concepts simply and directly. From his words emerges the great passion for the research of the best ingredients and the result of long journeys to discover food excellence. We met him in his kingdom, the starred restaurant Mistral, a breathtaking place by the Como Lake. A special place at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, a unique place in atmosphere and style, dating back to 1873 when it was transformed from a private home into a luxury hotel.

When did you realize you become a chef?

I started in this field at twelve and then at twenty-seven, I decided to study and work hard to achieve specific goals.

The most important experiences for your career?

Surely when I decided to study in the most important cooking school in the world, the Ecole Lenôtre in Paris. There I had the chance to study and learn the French approach and some of the most important concepts. I spent a lot of time in schools and in what were my hobbies: researching the product and understanding what the philosophy of my colleagues was, even those of previous generations. I started traveling twenty-five years ago for fun and study. I met many colleagues and continued to travel to taste and understand the cuisine of the world.

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Have you always been a curious traveler?

Yes. I have been and still am a curious person. It is also important for me to compare myself with young people. They have a completely different perspective of what cuisine is, it is more stylistic. It’s a very interesting and reciprocal exchange. I’m glad to note that they pay a lot of attention to the product because a dish is never an end in itself and that the quality of the ingredients matters.

Last year you celebrated the hundred years of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. What did you do for the event?

The property required a certain style for the centenary: the classics of French cuisine. This language is still spoken in certain kitchens. French cuisine has laid down the law for over a couple of centuries, from the late 1700s to the early 2000s.

What dishes would you suggest to those who try for the first time your Mistral restaurant?

I was the first in Italy to apply science to cooking. I would recommend the molecular cooking menu that mixes its products following the cycle of the seasons. Molecular cuisine has changed the culinary language.

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What brought you to write a book?

I wanted to point out and make known my years in career and where I am right now. I did it more for myself. I didn’t want to make myself known to the public, but I wanted to certify what I did and how my journey in the molecular kitchen started.

In your opinion, what is most misunderstood by the public in regards to molecular cuisine?

This cuisine was talked about solely as “dishes that require a high technical rate (that is important)”, but we should not forget what is the quality of the product, the focus of what you put on the plate. I don’t want to make a cuisine that becomes a show for its own sake. Molecular cuisine has called into question all the preparations of traditional recipes.

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How did you develop the scientific skills you apply to your cuisine?

It was a slow journey, step by step, done together with physicists and chemists, university professors with whom I studied the cooking processes of food and their structure.

Which product are you particularly proud of?

The challenge today is to have excellent products. I am very proud to have Aleandro Sousa’s fat goose liver, an ethical foie gras as the animal does not have a forced feeding, rather feeds naturally. A rare ingredient made in very limited quantities, which has become one of the most important ingredients of a signature dish.

What do you think of the many food-themed television programs?

It was positive. They put a magnifying glass on the figure of the Chef. Once we were ashamed of being a cook, today it is a job we are longing for and it is very appreciated. All this is also due to television, which has made what we do spectacular.

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