` Cristiano Tomei: Instinct and Madness

Food & Cooking

Cristiano Tomei: Instinct and Madness

May. 21, 2013
By Luciana Squadrilli

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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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