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Interview with Caterina Ceraudo, starred chef and creator of the new Petelia panino

Interview with Caterina Ceraudo, starred chef and creator of the new Petelia panino

Food and retail together under the same roof, in the name of female collaboration: Panino Giusto 1st Floor – two floors of tastiness and shopping with Yamamay covering a total area of 1000m2 in Piazza Cordusio, Milan – has just opened and boasts a new tasty creation of the starred chef Caterina Ceraudo. The “Petelia” sandiwch is a homage to womanly talent and to the beauty of her homeland, Calabria. In this interview we talked about this with her, and also we talked about her determination, her family restaurant near Crotone and of female talent in the world of food services.

You’re a lot more than a chef, some think of you as a beacon highlighting Calabria, and shedding light on its local products. In which way your homeland and its territory defined your career?

Since I was a child my memories are made of nature and its green, of shadows cast by olives during summertime, of fragrant breeze coming from the sea. Calabria is my home, it’s a strong land: its environment is so beautiful and lush in spite of everything, unpolluted, and made of so many different flavors, not just by those given to it by others. My memories go back the my dad Roberto and his hands covered in dirt, he was one of the first in Calabria that chose organic agriculture, to help respecting our home. He was the spark that ignited the flame in me, his passion was a great drive and taught me to follow my dreams. Moving away from my homeland to study and improve myself helped me understand how important was for me to live my homeland and work to help the whole world understand Calabria’s hidden treasures. Now my goal is to shed a light on Calabria, a land made of millions of different souls,  difficult and complicated to understand, but rich in beauty; with my dishes I want to challenge stereotypes that were imposed to my homeland, I want to disclose its true soul, a soul deeper than what people usually think.

Tell us more about two signature dishes: one that represents you and one to represent Calabria.

A dish-ingredient that I think represents me is tomato: in a single element you can find a really unique taste, a multitude of nuances and different consistencies. It’s a unique element, it adapts to every occasion and, if given the right appreciation, it can give life to incredible creations! For Calabria I immediately thought about Potatoes and Bell peppers: a dish that, with its flavor, transforms a normal Sunday at home, during family lunch in Calabria, in a really magical experience. Since I was a child I waited with by brothers that potatoes and bell peppers were served to run in the kitchen and peel that burnt part that creates in the skillet. These are happy moments of my childhood, that joins together many children in Calabria. It’s a dish that smells and tastes like home and happy memories. The potato must be cooked under ash and in aluminum foil for almost an hour, with its peel on, salted, then, after they are cooked, they must be peeled. The “new potato peel” will be made with a bell pepper glazing obtained by reducing vegetation water of the pepper. The potato has to be covered in glaze and cooked for three times in an oven set at 170°C for three minutes each time. The base of the dish is a virgin single-variety basil extract on which the potato is put. The last glazing is done just before serving so that the potato has a shiny appearance.

Your cooking style is at the same time starred and essential: we are witnessing a progressive return to origins, to appreciation of a noble simplicity that leaves out all frills and puts an accent on what is simple. This is more than a curriculum, it’s a true manifesto! How did you develop this kind of awareness?

The appreciation of raw materials is something crucial for me and, when dealing with excellency among the products of the land, you don’t need any frills or decorations. The dishes speak for themselves, the different tastes are its main actors. To dignify an ingredient means to respect it, exalting its potentiality; there are humble ingredients that hide unexpected tastes, all it takes is to study them, experiment and never give up. Awareness comes from study and knowledge, from discussion with the experts, from hard work. There’s nothing better than being surprised by the authentic taste of simple things.

You were called brave, visionary, and nominated best female chef for 2017 according to Michelin Guide. Is there a dish you would assign or that was with you in each of these steps?

I would definitely say Bass fish: Bass fish emulsion and candied lemon. It’s a dish that joins together land and sea, the truest spirits of Calabria, its perfumes and its beauties. Dattilo, my family restaurant, is located at a kilometer and a half from the sea and is cradled by 3 acres of citrus grove, this dish is the perfect synthesis of my devotion and gratitude to my homeland. It’s a dish that I love and that followed me in my growth, a dish that has always been with me even when I was far from home.

Italy is the country with the highest number of female chefs awarded by Michelin guide. A group of professionals that send an important sign to Italian society. What would you like to say to all those women that are approaching to this world or would like to?     

Take a leap of faith, don’t be afraid! Gender differences mustn’t scare you, being “fewer than” doesn’t mean you count “less than”: we must stop thinking that haute cuisine is a man-only world just because it has always been like this up until now. Things change, and people are the only thing that matter, their personal stories and passions, not their gender. Thanks to Veuve Clicquot’s Atelier des grande Dames network I was very lucky to have known many female chefs, that manage their kitchens and their activities without giving up on being women. With dignity, strength and determination they conciliate private life with work, they are full-time moms, daughters, friends, wives, businesswoman, innovators, without giving anything up. If you have a dream, chase it! Numbers and statistics are not supposed to be an obstacle!

Tell us more on Petelia, the new panino you created for the store Panino Giusto – 1st Floor.

I accepted this invitation because bread, in its most authentic expressions, is something always present in my kitchen and because I never really tested myself in creating a panino, something to eat with your hand, that has to take into account of the harmony of every ingredient all in a single bite! For me, Petelia is a challenge, it’s like taking my origins in a trip all around Italy. Petelia is the Greek name for Strongoli, my hometown, to which I’m grateful for giving me the opportunity to witness all its beauty. Petelia’s ingredients are Capocollo, Field salad and Candied citrus, Tropea Onion marinated in Raspberry Vinegar and Stracciatella cheese. I Chose to involve in this creation another young man from Calabria, Stefano Caccavari, founder of the Mulinum project.

This project brings back the culture of original wheat, healthier and tastier as it is whole-wheat and devoid of any invasive chemical treatments. Petelia’s bread is prepared from Verna soft wheat, an ancient type that has been cultivated at 1300mt on mount Sila, near Catanzaro, since 60 years ago. It’s the so-called “mountain wheat”: its flour is whole-wheat, as no parts of the seed are taken out during production, which enhances the taste, fragrance and has a positive impact on our health.

The story I wanted to tell with this panino is, first and foremost, a story on Calabria’s essence and richness, far from all stereotypes; the softness of Stracciatella cheese, the saltiness of Capocollo and the freshness of Candied Citrus together with Raspberry Vinegar beautifully coexist, just like beauty and hardship that live together in my homeland. In the end, I chose to see the beauty, to stay in my homeland Calabria and work for everyone to see and appreciate its wonders.