INTERVIEW WITH CHEF DAMIANO BASSANO AT L’ALCOVA, VENICE
Damiano, originally from Salento, began his career in Paris and Strasbourg, followed by Spain and the United States. Traditional Italian flavors combined with unique touches are the distinctive elements of its cuisine. He loves experimenting and creating new combinations. Since two years he has been the as Executive Chef of the renowned restaurant L’Alcova, in the splendid Hotel Ca’Sagredo taking care not only of the restaurant and breakfast menu, but also the rich buffets of special events, such as the one tonight, for the presentation of the book ‘Women’ written by Uruguay born Milton Fernandez.
On these occasions, will your menu be inspired to the theme and atmosphere of the event?
Certainly. Today, as a tribute to the latin author, I prepared finger food with roast beef and lime, mini tacos and small empanadas that remind me so much of the tiny Pugliese panzerotti.
Let’s talk about fish. Where do you shop?
At the Rialto market. I rely on seasonality and suggestions from my supplier.
From there I decide the menu of the day and make fish dishes that maintain the typical Italian cuisine, always keeping an eye to our international clientele, often with different tastes from ours.
Today, an elderly Venetian told me that this market is becoming increasingly scarce and less stocked. It’s true?
Unfortunately, yes, slowly it is reducing in extension and presence of sellers, a bit like the real Venetians that today are only around 50,000. Even the fishermen confirm that the fish choices have changed and the variety has shrunk. Delicacies like the schie … have become a memory. Today the request is primarily oriented on mussels, clams, sea bream, sea bass, king prawns, tuna, sword.. in other words ‘universally known fish’, available everywhere but preferred by tourists who generally fear experiencing tastes that they do not know.
Yes, because I think it would be nice to let the customer try the local typicality. I find it genuinely useless to propose in Venice some American scallops, easily available even in New York!
Fruits and vegetables?
Amazingly good. We are supplied by the island of Sant’Erasmo, whose sale and removal was so successful that the Consorzio di Sant’Erasmo opened a sales outlet right here in Venice. We hope for good … too much success sometimes spoiled.
A fish that you love to cook but which you gave up, given the doubtful reception of the international customer?
I have no doubt; the spatula, which I would love to cook especially after my Sicilian experiences. Even my supplier told me ‘Damiano, the spatula is not so difficult to procure, but there is no request, I am sorry … pick up another fish’.
It reminds me a bit of the phenomenon of globalization. There are no artisan shops because of the large chains promoted by consumerism. So mothers or grandmothers who cook in a trattoria, are not there anymore?
Well, I find them when I go back to my Salento. There is still some small osteria without a specific menu. Grandma cooks daily 2 or 3 dishes according to what she found at the market. And they are all spectacular!
Do you cook at home?
Almost never, I prefer to go out with friends, I rarely make a salad and if I am really in the mood, I make my favorite dish: spaghetti tomatoes and basil. I love simplicity!
Never in your fridge …
Prepacked mayonnaise and mustard.
Always in your fridge …
The top dishes of tonight’s menu?
Spaghetti, zucchini and wild mint creamed with bottarga, then fresh sea bass sauteed with salt, oil and thyme and served on a summer panzanella with red onion and fresh gherkin.
So there is a touch of Mediterranean heritage in your kitchen for the Serenissima?
Of course, here I revive perfumes and tastes that I always keep in my heart, naturally adapting them to an international clientele of a certain level.
About the Mediterranean thing… try my semifreddo with basil and my apricot mousse with rosemary ….
DINNER AT THE ALCOVA, THE RESTAURANT OF THE LUXURIOUS HOTEL CA’SAGREDO, VENICE
Prosecco on the table, (with which I adopted with throughout the all dinner) and small varied sandwiches, including a delicious black fennel bread. As a starter a pie of beets, figs, almonds and mini melon balls. I’m not a big lover of sweet and sour, but I found it pleasant.
Here is comes a more determined and tasty stewed moscardino with polenta, a typical Venetian dish. As pasta dishes, I tried the spaghetti with zucchini and mint, creamed with bottarga. Honestly I found the flavors a bit ‘disjointed, perhaps not very connected, I definitely preferred spaghetti with cuttlefish ink served with crispy cuttlefish, al dente, tasty, light and not too saturated of fishy flavor. Then a chef recommendation: fresh sea bass served on squares of a slightly acetate panzanella bread garnished with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions.
The pairing with the panzanella didn’t really appealed to me, but I respect the intentions of Bassano, who’s Salento’s origins like to add to the menu a little of Mediterranean cuisine and the aroma of the local herbs, as in the grand finale:
a mousse with basil and a spectacular rosemary semifreddo.
Fresh and refreshing, with an extra point to the rosemary!