Materia is the restaurant from which this young Italian cook unveils to the world the wealth of his land, the Italian region of Como.
We all have memories that stay quietly in the back of our minds until one day we come to realise that they make up who we are and, very often, who we want to be. For Davide Caranchini, a young cook from the area of Lake Como, that day came while he was working at Noma, a place that kindled in him the idea to ‘reflect on my roots, on what my grandmother taught me when I was a child and she would take me to Val d’Intelvi to gather berries and herbs, and taught me to respect the seasons.’ Memories that entwined Davide with a land – his own, not just any – and allowed him to weave a gastronomic concept that enables ‘the traditions of Como to be shared with the world via cooking.’
Although cooking was not a traditional line of work in his family, Caranchini became interested in gastronomy at an early age. After going to cooking school in Como, he did stints at Maze, Le Gavroche and Apsleys in London; the aforementioned Noma, in Copenhagen; and la Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence.
He learnt from all of them, but it was Noma that really made an impression on him. ‘It opened up a new way of understanding cooking ... seeing how a humble root or leaf could become something noble.’ A philosophy – that of Nordic cooking – whose heart, according to Davide Caranchini, is very much like that of his native Como ‘where winters are harsh and the mountain woods have always been considered to be a kind of open-air supermarket.’
Caranchini now applies all this experience at Materia, his personal project in Cernobbio, where ‘contemporary techniques are at the service of the past’ to offer a simple cuisine with much thought behind it. In the mind of this young cook, ‘cutting-edge and modernistic cooking stems from the creativity of cooks themselves rather than from technique, offering them the opportunity to evolve, engage and be influenced by other ideas and sensitivities.’ Four people stand behind this restaurant’s core concept that has been applied since day one at Materia and which, as its name suggests, holds raw materials – the very essence of everything – in the highest esteem. Davide works alongside Ambra – his life and business partner – and her brother Marco and cousin Luca. All aged around thirty, these young people are keen to shake things up. ‘At least, that’s the goal! It’s important for us to offer this unique take and we’re lucky to live in an age without borders, something we must make the most of in order to convey these messages of change,’ says this Italian cook.
It is clear that for many cooks gastronomy can no longer be inseparable from their environment, from the age they inhabit, from the society they represent – an idea spearheaded by these young chefs who seek authenticity above spectacle. ‘Cooking has to be authentic. We are human beings before being cooks, and we must be able to understand the true demands of the historical time and context in which we live and be mindful about this,’ asserts Caranchini, who believes that in this new system ‘our relationship with the land is essential, as are human relationships and respect for those who work hard to offer us excellent quality raw materials every day.’
He has rooted Materia on these foundations; a restaurant based on substance, on the essence of dishes that pay particular attention to the plant world, to ingredients ‘that instead of being made into a side dish are now the protagonists. I personally love vegetables, and to be able to create dishes that highlight their characteristics and truly honour them, as has been done for so long with meat and fish, is something I find very exciting.’
As part of this philosophy, Materia has its own vegetable garden where they grow herbs, which, for Caranchini ‘is the best way to have fresh herbs for every service because you know how they’ve been grown and they’re picked at the peak of perfection.’ A harmonious thread runs through everything offered at Materia, proving that Italian cooking has shaken off its image of being just ‘pasta della mamma’, although traditional cooking is definitely not disparaged, ‘they are two worlds that must – and can – move hand in hand. I certainly couldn’t give up that traditional culture,’ this new generation affirms.