Born into a family of Italian chefs, the food world had high expectations for Massimiliano Alajmo, and he was quick to surpass them.
In 2002, he became the youngest chef ever to be awarded three Michelin stars at the age of just twenty-eight. Today, he and his brother Raffaele preside over a mini-empire of restaurants in Venice, Paris and his native Padua.
My goal is to reach or penetrate the nucleus of the ingredient, and respond with respect and therefore lightness.
Alajmo made a name for himself interpreting ingredients in innovative ways, creating a contemporary Italian cuisine that is at once simple and totally unique. His reputation has earned him the nickname il Mozart dei fornelli – or Mozart of the stove.
Olive Oil Times spoke with the Italian celebrity chef to find out more about an ingredient at the heart of his cooking and Italian cuisine.
Alajmo began his training in the kitchen with his mother, Rita Chimetto. It was Rita who led Le Calandre, the restaurant Massimiliano would later inherit, to its first Michelin star.
“My mother taught me many things, and olive oil was always a base ingredient in her food,” says Alajmo.
Since then, his knowledge and appreciation for olive oil have deepened.
For Alajmo, good cooking means truly understanding and respecting the ingredients.
“There is no truth beyond that contained in the ingredients,” he told food critic Andy Hayler in 2012. “My goal is to reach or penetrate the nucleus of the ingredient, and respond with respect and therefore lightness.”
So how has Alajmo come to understand olive oil over the course of his career?
“The liquid structure of olive oil tends to make aromas last longer, especially when used in combination with water,” he says.
This discovery has lead Alajmo to start using it as a substitute for dairy products in some of his sauces and pastries. He says olive oil carries aromas better than butter and allows him to create a creamy consistency without using dairy, making the dishes easier to digest.
“Olive oil figures prominently in a special line of panettone, traditional Italian sweet bread, that we make using olive oil in place of butter. We also make an olive oil puff pastry and a number of water-based sauces and preparations that seem to contain dairy, but are really dairy-free,” he says.
At Le Calandre, the Alajmo family’s three-Michelin-star flagship, you’ll find inventive dishes like Juniper and licorice powder risotto or seared turbot with yellow potato purée, cardamom carrot juice, and black olive powder. But at his heart, Alajmo is a traditionalist. The three things he would bring with him to a deserted island: olive oil, bread and wine.
“It’s a combination of freshness, the sacred and strength,” he says.