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10 GIUGNO 2018

Fabio Tammaro, Chef: I brought the sea where it was not

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Fabio Tammaro is a chef from Campania who brought his fish cuisine to the city of Verona. Follows a philosophy that initially surprised the customers of its restaurant. But he was right.

She has a fishbone tattooed behind her left ear: it's an amberjack, the first one she cleaned. He is a chef who bears on his body the signs of his life passages: the city of origin, Torre Annunziata, the fish that wisely manipulates every day, the poets and writers who with their works have given voice to that inscrutable world made of salt water and seagulls that he loves so much.

She is young, but is already the owner of one of the best fish restaurants (mainly raw) in Verona, the Officina dei Sapori. A city, Verona, where the sea is not there but he, the sea, brought it to us. He made a clean sweep of everything that is "fish cuisine" for ordinary mortals and has imposed itself on customers and admirers with his philosophy of respect for fish since its birth, in the depths of the sea.

I often wonder if these great passions for the raw material, sooner or later, do not clash with the commercial needs of a restaurant. The opportunity to discover it came during Fabio's cooking show in the La Soffritta premises, where we chatted while he prepared two dishes from his menu: scallops seared on the ground of black olives and guacamole and spaghettone "sciuè sciuè 2012" with hedgehogs of sea, burrata and basil that we accompanied with the wines of the La Pria winery.


Fabio, your career as a chef started in a decidedly daring way: your studies were taking you in another direction. What happened?

«I attended the Hospitality Institute, address" room and bar ", but for that role a rigor was required that did not belong to me. I fought heavily with a professor because I introduced myself to serving in the dining room with very sporty and coarse terry socks instead of the classic men's socks that the role required.

I was therefore thrown into the "office", that area of ​​the room where the cutlery is polished. And never punishment was more providential: from that room I could peek at future cooks at work in the kitchen: the effort, the sweat, the speed and the precision of their movements in performing the dishes. They looked like the mechanics of Formula One, they were so fast and close-knit. I had to be part of that world too ".

So change your address.

«Yes, in the third year I chose the specialty in the kitchen. I was 16 and the knowledge that this was my place ».

So you arrived in Verona. By the way: why a city so little "seafaring"?

"It was a coincidence, it wasn't planned. I arrived at the Officina dei Sapori restaurant because they were looking for a chef who could interpret the sea differently.

After a year, in 2012, I joined the company and now I am the company administrator and chef. I brought my ethics inside the restaurant, far from everything that is commercial, but that imposes strong decisions both on raw materials and on the menu proposal ».

 

What was the first difficulty encountered?

«I could not find the raw materials in the way I had always been used to. Verona is not exactly a seaside town, but I have always bought fish directly from fishermen: I need to watch it, the fish, I couldn't buy in a closed box. I'm not buying candy. "

Did you have the same problems even to convey your cooking philosophy?

«No, because when a customer is willing to understand what is behind the choice of an ingredient or what motivates us to propose a dish, the customer shares them with us. It seems trivial to say, but respect for the raw material is the basis of my philosophy: the problem arises when I have to explain what is meant by respect ».

I'm all ears.

"The Mediterranean Sea is suffering so much that by 2050, almost nothing will be left to catch. We all have a responsibility to protect it by paying attention to what we eat and how we eat it.

In Italy there are 350 species of fish, but commercially we only have 20 available for purchase and consumption. Let us ask ourselves, therefore, what is the meaning of going to take sea bass and sea bream from Greece, salmon on a farm or swordfish and tuna from the Pacific.

These are choices that harm our fishermen and our economy, not to mention the fact that they are products made to be sold and that they have therefore followed a wrong diet or, worse, are loaded with hormones that made them grow quickly ».

What, then, are the roles of restaurateurs and customers within this fragile economy?

«We restaurateurs have the duty to make the customer aware of the issue and make it aware.

In my restaurant we don't find salmon, sea bass or sea bream because we only work fish caught and not farmed and only fish that have a certain weight ».

What does weight have to do with this philosophy?

«From the weight of the fish we can see its age. We must never forget that when we remove a fish from the sea we prevent it from reproducing. Therefore, if we fish and eat too small fish we do not give them time to reproduce, while if we eat too old fish we risk ingesting meat that is more likely to come into contact with pollutants.

We work fish ranging from 20 to 40 kilos: these are fish that have at least 5 or 6 years of reproduction, are still toned and young, but could reproduce. A bit like a young man, a 30-year-old man ».

But how is it possible to calculate the age of the fish from the weight?

"Generally, immediately after reaching sexual maturity, the growth of fish stabilizes, from three kilos to one kilo per year. Thanks to this calculation we are able to trace the age of the fish and we can serve customers not too old. To give an example, the tuna we find on the market is obtained from ocean fish that abundantly exceed 100 kilos: we are therefore talking about fish that can exceed 80, 90 years of age. But not only: according to the fishing period we can select specimens with more or less adipose tissue. During the mating seasons the fish lose weight drastically due to the long crossings and then fatten up considerably immediately after the reproductive act. If you search for ventresca, that's the ideal period. "

Is following this philosophy expensive for those who run a restaurant?

«Yes, it has a high price, economically speaking. It happened that some people sat at the table, opened the menu, closed it and left. They did it because they didn't find the sea bass with salt, pasta with salmon, mussel pepper or fried squid. Everything that the classic fish cuisine has accustomed us to.

Let's be clear: this is not a wrong restaurant, if it reflects the life cycle of the products. But mussels are a seasonal product and finding them twelve months a year means eating mussels even during their reproductive period.
Prices in hand: the farmed fish costs 9.90 euros per kilo, while the fish caught has a cost of 25 euros. So whoever catches fish is either stupid or is in love with the sea. That's why, in our small way, we try to make choices that are not easy, but that know how to be right.

A choice that cost us a lot, initially. But today, after almost eight years, the people who know us have understood our philosophy, they have identified us as a restaurant that mainly makes quality raw fish and I'm very proud of it ».

Have you ever thought about how to define your kitchen?

«I have always tried to avoid adjectives like gourmet cooking, naturalist cooking, respectful cooking. A great chef said "there are two kitchens, the good one and the not good one". We try to make good food ».

When it comes to raw fish, Japanese cuisine immediately comes to mind. Was it difficult to make customers understand that raw fish can be anything else?

«Japanese cuisine, the real Japanese cuisine, is very difficult to find in Italy. It is the fruit of a secular culture, made of great technique, rigor and respect for the raw material. With us in the West, surrogates often arrive, faded imitations, a bit like what happens with pizza and lasagna abroad: they copy it with very little results.

Raw fish is absolutely different, it must first be synonymous with healthy and tasty. The real problem is that in recent years there has been a gradual shift away from the knowledge of nature and its products: many, too many people have never opened a fish, they do not know that inside a fish there are eggs, liver and heart .

Culinary curiosity has shifted; the raw material no longer counts, but the final dish. We are no longer used to certain flavors and aromas, which are the intense flavors of Mediterranean fish, which have nothing to do with Asian cuisine. It seems incredible, but we have even been criticized for the fish that "knows too much about fish", precisely because we are no longer used to that taste.

On a commercial level, we have nothing in common with the Asian concept restaurant: the customer who arrives from us knows perfectly well that he will find the intense and authentic flavors of the Mediterranean, without alterations. Consistency is the most appreciated ingredient of all ».

Making culture, for you, must not be easy. Especially when a customer does not come to the restaurant with the idea of ​​learning, but only of eating.

"This is why I invest a lot in training my staff: it is not enough to bring a dish to the table telling the customer what fish we are serving, but we must be ready to know how to explain the reason for so many of our choices.

For example, it happened that some prawns arrived at the table with a dark purple head; that color was given by the eggs that were ripening behind the cheeks, so it was a high quality shrimp. By communicating this information, the client changes his approach completely and is able to enjoy his experience even more, appreciating the uniqueness of that morsel. These are all aspects that need to be shared with the customer in order to acquire awareness and greater culture on such a delicate raw material ".

 

While I'm about to sit down at the table, Fabio Tammaro finishes completing the dish with a little oil and he confides in a whisper: «I like that the customer and satisfied by my restaurant after eating the sea lemons: not only because they were good, but because he understood that he found a special product that evening will probably not find again ".

 

Articolo: Sonia Milan
Shooting fotografico: Simone Toson 
VIdeo: Davide e SImone Rudari 

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