I follow Damiano Carrara since I first saw him on TV as a judge on Bake Off Italy and then with Katia Follesa in Cake Star bakeries in challenge. From the very first time I found him to be 'genuine': a straightforward, sincere, passionate and very, very knowledgeable guy. Just the way I like it! Getting to know him during Condi-mentsepisode 0 of a cooking format which, given its success, I believe will have a long and fascinating life, was a wonderful opportunity. Damiano Carrara and I are both born in 1985, and I believe we share a boundless love for our work and an immense pride in being Italian. A pride that does not blind us, however, but rather opens our minds to new tastes, smells, flavours, products.
Damiano Carrara: small personal reflection on his Made in Lucca
When I heard him talk about his pastry shops in America where he imports ingredients (e.g. saffron) from Lucca and Italian machinery... the pride in his choices also hides a 'difficulty' because let's face it: working with certain products is cost and sacrifice and you have to really believe in them. I understand it all too well: my book Sommelier: the illustrated manual is printed in Italy with a paper produced by Favini - another Italian company - from wine processing waste - without cutting down trees and in a logic of circular economy. It costs three times the price of a normal recycled paper, which in turn costs double and more than twice as much as a classic publishing paper. So, in my own small way, I know very well what Damiano Carrara is doing. And I also know that he might not be doing it, but he is doing it because what he believes in comes before money. Which for people like us is never 'vile', but a source of new investment to do even better.
Damiano Carrara at Condi-Menti 2023
Condi-menti is a beautiful format, where there is no stage with speakers who talk, talk, talk and maybe you taste something. Because let's face it: some formats are deadly boring, and honestly, listening to talk for an hour and then tasting a little something when I've already lost the taste for it is a no-no, thank you. Condi-menti is a beautiful format because it puts everyone around a set table. Set, as Cristiano, chef and artistic director of the event, says: an all-Italian custom of which we should be proud. The guests sit down, taste the dishes and listen to the explanation of the concept behind that dish while they are watching and tasting it: beautiful. Moreover, being all around the table invites the convivialityAnd isn't it with a desire for cheerfulness and light-heartedness that one shares a bite of cake or a glass of wine?
Damiano Carrara and Italian conceptual confectionery
I believe that Damiano Carrara's pastry can be defined as conceptual because it expresses his idea of cuisine. And I say cuisine because it is a 'borderline' pastry, which uses ingredients stolen from the salty world to make desserts that are not so sweet and therefore also suitable for those who prefer to end a meal with a slice of cheese rather than a chocolate cake!
Some I am sure would use the very boring phrase 'innovation and tradition', but I think Damiano Carrara is actually not an innovator, but an artist. He does not create a new technique, but uses the techniques he has mastered to provide a new interpretation of something that already exists, as he did with the Lucchese herb cake o pie with beaks. It is a peculiar non-sweet dessert, combining chard with sugar, sultanas, pine nuts, candied orange, vin santo, nutmeg, cinnamon, butter, eggs... all in a mouth-watering filling inside a disc of short pastry that is punched out to form the characteristic beaks from which it gets its name.
To show you the herb cake 'original' I borrowed this wonderful photo by food blogger Giulia Scarpaleggia, from her blog Letters from Tuscany which I have just discovered and find simply wonderful! I hope you enjoy it... you have certainly gained a reader with me (and I hope many of you follow!).
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Well, Damiano Carrara's interpretation of this traditional dessert, for me, is simply extraordinary! The real touch, however, is the fried chard leaf placed on top: courage and talent, I wouldn't know how else to describe it.
The Lucchese cake of Damiano Carrara is called 'the vegetable garden of my house'. and tells of an important novelty he brings to the pastry shop: the seasonality. The very word 'orchard' recalls the concept of seasonal vegetables and fruits and has a nostalgic flavour that tastes of long waits and a lot of work. And this moves his 'borderline' desserts one step closer to a cuisine that does not want to separate dessert from the menu. Damiano Carrara does not want to be the dessert served at the end of the meal or the dessert menu brought in separately after dinner, but a course among courses, in a logic of fusion between savoury and pastry that by definition is sweet, but perhaps not. And here I think of those savoury, sweet or sweet-savoury pastries that graced Renaissance and Baroque tables, in a perfect reminder of the large table in the beautiful hall of the Real Collegio di Lucca that hosted us. Pastries that contained sugar, once so precious that it was considered a healthy companion to the courses, sweetening even the bitterest field vegetable.
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Book 'Sommelier: the Illustrated Manual' Special Edition 2022
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Actually, this is only the first instalment of another story of Condi-Menti I want to tell you about: that of Cristiano Tomei. I had already listened to one of her precious speeches during my master's degree in food and wine journalism at the Luiss Guido Carli in Rome... and here in the photo above is my professor, the food and wine journalist Eleonora Cozzellawhich was so inspiring for me and my writing that it led me to found the newspaper Sommelier Suite where, in a completely different style, I write popular articles related to the world of sommellerie!
In this beloved blog of mine, however, I continue to tell you about emotions and experiences in the first person because they are how I live and feel them... I always hope to inspire you on a journey, inside and outside your palate.
I greet you with this article Italian cuisine does not exist which I wrote during the master's course inspired by the words of Cristiano Tomei!