`Cristiano Tomei: Instinct and Madness - Olive Oil Times

Cristiano Tomei: Instinct and Madness

By Luciana Squadrilli
May. 21, 2013 08:51 UTC

There are restau­rants located within great muse­ums through­out the world, but prob­a­bly only a hand­ful where you might enter a room to admire the art­works, and end up gaz­ing instead at the plates being served.

This is what hap­pens at L’Imbuto (The Funnel), chef Cristiano Tomei’s restau­rant that recently moved from Viareggio, a pretty sea­side town on the Tuscan coast, to the ancient walled town of Lucca.

The new restau­rant loca­tion is inside the Lu.C.C.A. — Lucca Center of Contemporary Art, a pri­vately-owned museum ded­i­cated to con­tem­po­rary and video art­works.

Chef Cristiano Tomei pro­poses a sur­prise menu” where guests need only choose how much they want to eat and pay, from 20 to 90 euros. He has been called the prim­i­tive chef” for his vis­ceral and unso­phis­ti­cated, yet not at all unre­fined cui­sine.

Tomei, 39, and full of nat­ural energy wears a ban­danna to keep his long hair in place. There are no elec­tri­cal gad­gets in his kitchen, every­thing is hand­made. He will change the dishes every night, accord­ing to what the mar­ket offers, his mood or the ongo­ing exhi­bi­tion, or even table by table.

Trusting him is a good choice, and sat­is­fac­tion is guar­an­teed. For me, cui­sine should be pure delight, and eas­ily under­stand­able to every­one,” he said. I had my ultra-cre­ative phase too, but now I think that cook­ing should be the result of a dif­fer­ent research, made day after day among the fields and the mar­ket stalls.”

So every morn­ing, Cristiano walks along the pine grove along the Viareggio seashore where he still lives, search­ing for pine cones and barks or wait­ing for the fish­er­men’s boats to be back with the catch of the day.

He also per­son­ally chooses the extra vir­gin olive oils, of course, which play an impor­tant role in his cui­sine. He mostly uses local ones from the Lucca region, which are ver­sa­tile and well bal­anced thanks to the land’s strate­gic posi­tion between sea and moun­tains.

He uses extra vir­gin in every dish, from starters to desserts, fine-tun­ing its inten­sity.

For exam­ple, it will be a del­i­cate and soft oil in the lav­ish olive oil may­on­naise with the raw fish stuffed sand­wich, filled with lemon zest, toma­toes and fried arti­chokes: a mouth­wa­ter­ing bite served in a cheeky fast food style pack­ag­ing. The same del­i­cate oil is also used in the excel­lent Russian salad and prawns crème brulée, where it does not over­power the fish taste.

Yet, the oil will be intense and pun­gent in the fake risotto,” finely-chopped veg­eta­bles creamed with olive oil ice cream, served with raw Norway lob­sters (which are actu­ally very com­mon in Italy) and Tuscan kale pow­der instead of salt.

The same explo­sive smooth­ness” is found in the oil- and Parmesan-stuffed ravi­oli with grilled cut­tle­fish: as one bites into the stuffed pasta, the fill­ing, made of an unsta­ble emul­sion, melts in the mouth, cre­at­ing the feel­ing of a typ­i­cal Italian com­fort food that Tomei refers to as a mom’s embrace.”

Extra vir­gin olive oil also is one of the main ingre­di­ents of the chef’s sig­na­ture dish: strips of beef served on pine bark. The bark is oven-warmed to enhance the aroma of both the wood and the oil, which the chef uses to rub the raw meat thor­oughly. The raw tex­ture of the meat is enhanced by adding the meat fat, cubed, pan roasted and almost melted, and crunchy hand made crisps.

Diners are asked to sniff it and eat it with their fin­gers, fol­low­ing the pri­mor­dial and car­niv­o­rous instinct (assum­ing that they eat meat, of course) to recre­ate, on the palate as well in the mind, the taste of a juicy, rare-cooked steak.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is present in the desserts, too: the olive oil and orange cream with hazel­nuts cous­cous is only lightly sweet, and it is accom­pa­nied by a small apple cake slice. This seem­ingly nor­mal pie con­ceals a sur­pris­ing heart of sweet, soft onions hid­den by the fruit. A great way to end the meal, hang­ing between sweet and savoury, appear­ance and real­ity.

When we vis­ited L’Imbuto, the Museum was host­ing an exhi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to the Italian tor­mented artist Antonio Ligabue (until the 9th of June 2013) whose title is Instinct, genius and mad­ness.” It appeared to be a per­fect title for Tomei’s cui­sine as well.

L’IMBUTO at Lu.C.C.A. — Lucca Center Of Contemporary Art
via della Fratta,36
Phone +39 0583 491280
tast­ing menu 20, 40, 60, 90 euros


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