Geographic location and techniques used to manipulate food are strong influential factors when we talk about flavours, preferences and gastronomic experiences.
Explore the potential of food.
Everyday this phrase repeats in my mind like a personal mantra, and makes me reflect on the reason why I can engage immediately with some flavours, while with others, it takes months to accept something which vergers between disgusting and delicious. This is the thrill and intrigue of my daily work.
One particular element holds the key to unlocking my favourite flavours. It is able to evoke the most vivid and intimate memories of my experiences with food. This element is fire.
A pure love for fire and a desire to control it is what led me to work professionally with food.
Fire and food are two symbiotic entities in my life. There are many fascinating aspects related to the interaction between food, fire and evolution of humans. Just like food, the fire is able to connect people, to make them gather closely by its flame. Similar to the smell of food, open fires are immensely diverse depending on which part of the world you may find yourself in. The burning materials are as different as are the ingredients.
Controlling fire intensity creates the possibility to apply a large range of gastronomic techniques; techniques from which flavour is born. Roasting, charring, drying, cooking under the ashes or underground, baking, fast boiling, simmering and cold and hot smoking are just few of the many ways we interact with fire. The intensity of the flame, its sounds and colours make fire extremely diverse and unique every single time we interact with it, transforming it into something magical and hypnotic.
The smell of smoke billowing out from a chimney of a wood-fired oven transports me back to a time almost 30 years ago.
It was late autumn, a cold, but sunny day in Sardinia. The oven was stoked with thin logs of oak ready for baking copious amounts of seasonal delicacies: potatoes and onion bread baked on top of chestnut leaves (pan’è chibudda), crispy pork skin bread (pane cun gherdas), few big round loaves of sour dough bread (Crivazzu), sweets with almonds, walnuts, and raisins (pabassinos), white stripes of semolina filled with thick reduced sweet grape must (tiliccas), and many others in the list.
Baking was a ceremony. My grandma collected green branches of trees and built a rudimental broom to remove the ashes and charcoal from the base of the oven. When everything was ready to bake, checking the temperature was a ritual – something very magical, as if the miracle of baking wasn’t mystical enough in itself.
“Put a piece of paper in the oven,” repeated my grandmother every time she used the wood-fired oven, “if it burns within the time it takes to say one prayer it means that the oven is ready for baking”.
I have a long list of favourite flavours connected to many stories related to gatherings around a fire, flavours which constantly change position on my personal scale of pleasure and guilt. It is challenging for me to refer to one in particular, as these flavours remind me of the unique experiences that have happened in my life.
Roberto Flore, Nordic Food Lab (Copenhagen, Denmark)