On a recent trip to Toronto, food journalist Cynthia David chatted with chef Andrea Berton, chef-owner of Ristorante Berton in Milan and Expo Milano 2015 Chef Ambassador, about his modern approach to Italian cuisine and what it’s like to be a Michelin-starred chef.
When Chef Berton prepares Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigiana) you won’t find traditional fried eggplant slices topped with tomato sauce. Instead, he forms roasted eggplant, grape tomatoes, Grana Padano cheese, olive oil and basil into quarter-sized rounds then freezes them at -30ºC. To serve, he dips the rounds in cocoa butter so they resemble white chocolate truffles. The result is an explosion of flavour, both familiar and entirely surprising. Read on to learn more about this innovative chef’s approach to food.
Q: How did you become a chef?
A: As a child, my parents would often take me to restaurants. I would stand at the kitchen door and watch the action, the rhythm and flow of chefs working together to create each dish. When I graduated from culinary school in 1989, I decided to work for the best, Gualtiero Marchesi, considered the founder of modern Italian cuisine. I immediately felt at home.
Q: How do you describe your culinary philosophy?
A: Tradition is important, but if you stick to the old ways you’ll never change. As a chef, I want to create flavourful dishes with immediate impact, using the freshest, finest ingredients available.
Q: Where do you source the ingredients for your inventive dishes?
A: Quality and freshness are the most important elements when I’m choosing ingredients. Italian olive oil, of course, aged Grana Padano, the aged Carnaroli rice from Piedmont, I prefer for my risotto, Taggiasca olives from Liguria, the small oval tomatoes we call Datterini or little dates for their sweet taste, and capers from Sicily.
Q: What is it like to earn a Michelin star?
A: You never know when you’re being considered for a Michelin star. The phone call comes two days before the official announcement. Of course it feels good, but then you go back to work, it pushes you to work harder.