Carlo Cracco

Being Carlo Cracco

Italy's most "famous" chef

He’s the most famous Michelin starred chef in Italy, student of the undisputed master of Italian cuisine, Gualtiero Marchesi, teaching him the majesty of Italian cooking and forging a clear idea of what Italian cuisine was really about; a move to France under the tutelage of another great, Alain Ducasse and soon after, Lucas Carton cemented his ability and culinary expression; learning how to perfect his technique and the application of science and experimentation in the kitchen.

Even if the word, technical has an unpleasing, unaesthetic feel to it, in Cracco’s kitchen it has a different usage altogether; perhaps it is best described as passion, where, in the last few years he has created dishes that tug at our emotive centres, knowingly. Remember Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy? He’s our Dr McDreamy. He is this to us, the Italians thanks to the role he took up first on Italy’s Masterchef between 2011 to 2017 and then Hell’s Kitchen in 2014: the judge. He has become a product ambassador of a famous kitchen company taking over from two of Italy’s first lady’s of TV (Lorella Cuccarini and Raffaela Carrà). In between all of this, however, he has managed to find the time to have four children, marry the love of his life, Rosa and to open an adult theme park where waiters serve you in racing uniforms at the Agnelli family grounds with one of the heirs, Lapo Elkann, all done in 2017.

If that wasn’t enough, he has opened a restaurant, which isn’t just a restaurant, in the centre of Milan in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. He is liked. Liked unconditionally and liked because more recently he has shown his human side a little more. When? When he lost a Michelin star, one of two which the red guide had recognised. If your star is shining too bright, it is only natural that you will end up in the eye of the storm, but if you fall like all ordinary mortals, then to love them is almost impossible.   

Did you know that thanks to you, children don’t just want to be footballers but also chefs?
Oh my god, (smiles), we also need good footballers. I’ve never wanted it or searched for it but I know that I am liked by a lot of children. The great thing is not so much that they want to become chefs, who knows how many times they will change ideas, but that this passion serves as something that works towards the world of food, it’s something more profound. I hope that they understand that becoming a chef is a beautiful job, fascinating but also lots of hard work.

Your Galleria restaurant has been opened for a few months after two years under construction. How is it going?
It was like I became a dad for the fifth time with this opening, that’s how it has felt. Day by day you see a project that started life with some issues; it doesn’t look good or special but there is nothing that you can not be happy with once the project has been completed after all that time, especially when you get to share it with others, people, colleagues, friends, my wife, my children.

What dish did you think about creating for the opening of this new restaurant?
If I were to tell you that I haven’t yet thought of one would that give you a bad impression? We’re working on it, creating dishes is done internally, you can’t think that working in the Galleria is anything like working in the old restaurant it wasn’t an easy move, moreover a change of gear and different prospects that you deal with as well. Now, when one of the chefs steps outside for a breath of fresh air they are inside a work of art, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and all of its history and all of the thousands of people that stare at our windows. Our way of thinking hasn’t however changed, as well as how the tables are organised and the dishes that come from this will be a reflection of the new surroundings but it all takes time. Bit by bit.

Has your team changed?
It’s thanks to my team that I get do what I do, it wasn’t easy putting it together but finally all the pieces are now in place. Returning to your question though, of course, all of my team has followed me in this adventure and to tell you the truth I am having to double it, because I don’t just have a restaurant, but five internal floors in the Galleria.

Who are these five Michelin starred floors for?
Everyone, no one is excluded even if it looks that way and people may think it. You can come here and buy a bottle of wine, have an aperitif with your friends or just have a coffee for €1.30 to satisfy anyone’s urge to come inside. Before my restaurant was something exclusive that not everyone had the chance to enjoy, it’s important to recognise that, but now one can have a glass of wine, a cocktail and the levels of accessibility are those which I’ve already talked about. The restaurant remains the restaurant but for everything else, there isn’t a specific audience that we’re trying to attract:  come here to try one of our chocolates or even a freshly turned out pastry!

Is cooking, art?
An artists passion, like that of a chef, is the final and inimitable touch that we may come to speak about in years to come. That’s why I believe that in the kitchen, art can be created because we are in a studio because there is a group that works with methods because behind the scenes there is a production that cannot produce anything but art. Are you trying to tell me that,  ‘risotto oro e zafferano’ (risotto with gold and saffron) by Marchesi isn’t art? Think about it.

How important are technical skills in the kitchen?
Very. It’s what allows you to be different and experiment in the kitchen. If you have good foundations you can do everything. Technical skills are the building blocks of a chef of which you can develop your professional abilities. These foundations are essential but it’s also not enough, you need to travel the world to absorb different flavours, cultures, get constantly up to date and let’s not forget that the where the real difference is made; it’s what’s inside of the chef, what they have to give and what they have to present to their customers.  

Milan is your city. It has dramatically changed in recent times. What kind of city is it today? What more needs to be done?
Milan is the most European city of Italy, accessible, welcoming, ready to accept different ideas and to give life to urban areas. We’re working on this as a city as if it were a capital.

You are living through a golden period in your life: You opened Garage Italia, married Rosa, opened in the Galleria. How do you keep up the expectations of those that want nothing more than to see you slip up, fail?
What a strange way to live your life, this idea that people hope to see someone fail. There are those that live off the failures of others but that’s their problem, not mine. As you say, I’m living in a bit of a golden moment, I just need to wake up every morning and work at keeping it like this, forever, there will naturally be highs and lows, but that’s life.

With Lapo (Elkann) and your Garage restaurant, there is a playful side that is coming out in your cooking. How does the gastronomic offering change for those eating at Piazzale Accursio?
In the kitchen, you will find Gabriele Faggionato, born 1987 in Vicenza, like me, but he comes from my brigade. We’re talking about 50 covers, managed by 12 people in the kitchen and a restaurant that is open 7 days a week. Every location has a history, we are not a chain, we are looking to satisfy the needs of the client without ever looking to take away from their emotional connection to a place. Garage Italia is aimed at a young audience that loves the automotive world and thus, our offering needs to be “soft”, “comfortable”, you need to do it in such a way that people are enjoying the historic location and not treat it like a museum.  

When it comes to naming the dishes, how much has Garage Italia influenced the process, or has Lapo left his touch in this area as well?
Everything is intended and lived like a game, even the menu was designed as a rev counter and everything was thought through to best interpret that which was an ex-service station. That means that today we have the perfect architecture and vessel of art as the beauty of speed. We are talking about a culture that comes from futurism, we are talking about people that have been integral to the automotive world and thus, we are talking about Lapo and his family, the Agnelli’s. You have everything to hit your objectives you just need to play your cards right, again, this is a game. The idea comes full circle.

Carlo e Camilla in Segheria (Carlo and Camilla in the Sawmill), again in Milan, in via Giuseppe Meda 24, we find your dishes. What is happening inside that building?
It’s a similar formula to that which you find at Garage Italia but the location is dedicated and moves more towards the world of design. Its soul is that of an old factory, in the city centre, closed off as if it were some memorial to a different time. What have we done? We have opened it by trying to respect the location, bringing it back to life and placing a long table through the middle so that way people can sit and socialise without any form of barriers.   

December 26th, 2017, the master of Italian cooking, Gualtiero Marchesi left us. Why does it seem that Italy didn’t recognise what he did?
Hardly anyone is a prophet in their own country. Gualtiero was THE master, the first and I always admired him, before ever meeting him and now, since his passing I have tried to use all of my strength to follow his teachings, no matter how much time has changed. The more success you have, the more that people want tare you down rather than giving praise to your talent in the right kind of way. That’s how it works.

It was 1986 when you were taken under the apprenticeship of Marchesi. What memories do you have of those days?
All the memories. I will have memories that will be with me forever. There are memories of things that no longer exist today. There is the seriousness in how work was approached, and how it could devastate your soul if you didn’t take the right way. In those days, the only nation that gave you a degree in cooking was in France, there weren’t the kind of training facilities that we have today so that’s where I ended up to finish my studies. Luckily times change, today there is more sharing, more openness to the world, fewer barriers if you are willing you can finish your studies in Mexico, Australia, Brazil and New Zealand nowadays.  

Do cooking and tourism studies still work today?
Of course, but like every other school they need to get better and the students need to spend more time in the kitchen. When they leave these schools they need to have appropriate training, only this way can they find it easier to get work and become very good chefs.

Can chefs today also be entrepreneurs?
It all depends on who wants to be, simple. They don’t need to be forced into it either. You could be the chef that trains the young ones, you could focus on your creative approach to cooking or you could do both. Over the years I have discovered that I am better by myself, professionally speaking, I like to be in charge of myself and free to make my own decisions, free to dream and accomplish what I set out to do.

Is it an added bonus if a chef can be seen away from his kitchen or even his restaurant? Moreover, it looks like the current trend is actually the opposite?
A chef’s job has changed a lot. Before there was zero visibility and not even the credibility that a chef has today. Seeing a chef outside of the kitchen was more or less a good thing then suddenly, there was this explosion of chefs on TV that didn’t even know what they were talking about. It’s a beautiful job that in part, needs rewriting even for those chefs that want to stay in the kitchen and I can only say this based on the very precise decisions that I have made. I’ve moved away from TV appearances to focus on other things because I believe in my restaurants, like the Galleria, which needs my day to day input, that’s why I’ve removed certain distractions.

Does respect between colleagues in a professional kitchen really exist?
You give me one job where, if you’re aiming for the top to represent your industry, to win a championship or award that you really respect your adversary?

Today, everyone is a food critic. Who for you is a critic?
Today it’s very hard to be a food critic, you need to be trained. A critic is someone who comes to eat multiple times in my restaurant, understands what they are talking about and is prepared to understand the world of gastronomy.  

Food is a synonym of business: has the way we understood it changed or are we just become a little more honest?
I hope I’m not being trivial when I simply say that times have changed and that before, it was a family that was behind a restaurant; at the end of the month they split their earnings. Today, family businesses in restaurants, especially those in high end gastronomy are a very small part. We’re talking about a different job that requires a different approach.

Michelin Stars: how much of it weighs on the person, compared to the chef?
On the person, on Carlo, I’d say nothing, you can only judge work, not a person or character.

Why was it that when you lost your Michelin Star there was more attention around this than a new three Michelin Star restaurant announced in Italy? Why is it that Italy focused on your story?
There you go, you just said it. They only write what they think will make the headlines.

There is a lot of talk about gourmet pizza. Does it make sense to give a Michelin Star to a pizzaiolo?
Absolutely, yes!

Three essential ingredients for Carlo Cracco.
Salami, it holds back my hunger, vegetables – which I adore and, fruit.

Do you use any Social Media? Which ones in particular if you do? Does it really make the world a smaller place, especially in the world of gastronomy?
I don’t have a good relationship with technology, the internet, social media. I really don’t have a lot of time to even be in this area, for me, it’s not a priority.  

Are you happy?
Could I be anything other than happy? I would say, probably not.

Originally published in issue 2 of 1820 Magazine.
Photos by Benedetta Bassanelli.
Translation by Gino De Blasio

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