Ruota il dispositivo
Ruota il dispositivo
When people ask me what I like about Massimiliano Alajmo’s cooking, I never know what to say exactly. There are so many possible answers, almost all excessively positive, that I have a hard time responding. But one detail emerges clearly when I try to make a balanced judgment, a detailed and non-emotional one, about the whole body of his work: every single dish - and he has a lot - is a link in a single chain, a particular segment of a long journey that unfolds, grows and matures with Massimiliano himself. What strikes me when eating his food over and over again is precisely this coherent and non-repetitive connection that exists between one dish and the next.
This reflection came to me out of the blue while working the Alajmo brothers’ second book, which will see the light in November of this year. (We recently prepared a video presentation of the book that offers a first taste of the contents, which we are in the process of finishing.)
Looking back at their first book, In.gredienti, and selecting the new photos of Massimiliano’s dishes for the second, taken together with the great Brazilian photographer Sergio Coimbra, I was struck by how the 68 photos we selected (from the hundreds that were shot) were so stylistically different compared to the photos that were taken 7 years prior. I felt as though the difference actually documented a coherent and fluid journey, which Massimiliano has lead to this point and who knows where he will take it from here. What binds the old and the new photos is Max’s culinary "journey." A journey, which according to me, is based more on knowledge and faith, than ingredients and technique. His dishes are like experiments of knowledge based on faith, and therefore on trust, without being too conceptual or forcibly artistic. Dishes to be enjoyed with self-abandonment. Incidentally, without this type of open, simple and direct knowledge my life would certainly be less meaningful.
What dominates in Max’s dishes, especially those that I consider the most significant, is a playful simplicity. All the ingredients are recognizable from the outset. But it seems there is always something that tends to escape complete comprehension of the dish, a detail that escapes even Max’s control. I have no other way to define artistic genius, if not this.
The comparison of Max’s dishes to links in a chain came to me while reading Calasso. The publisher describes the sense of individual books he edited using the same terms. I was fascinated by the parallel between books and dishes, both ancient means to obtain pure knowledge. I cherish Calasso’s description of religion, which he defines with the two terms - knowledge and belief, or the sraddha of the Vedic seers. "The religious element which occupies every corner of our experience because we are in constant contact with things that are beyond the control of our ego - and precisely in the context of what is beyond our control, is that which for us is most important and essential." I have copied this sentence verbatim because it sums up perfectly what I have experienced for years when enjoying the works of Alajmo. Max’s dishes are fruit of a mind thirsty for knowledge and belief, enhanced with technique and improvisation, enriched with memory and invention, and in search of ... abandonment ("fluidity is to surrender oneself to true beauty").
Now, you might think of these as the words of a madman. To introduce such concepts as art, genius, knowledge and faith in the context of a dish may seem crazy. I respect the opinion of others, but I'm keeping my own: the culinary arts, at the aforementioned level, are truly great art. And therefore it can also be considered a part of so-called “high concepts.” However, there are no high concepts, there are only concepts. And in today’s globalized dessert of society something should be said for simply coming up with even a vague concept. (Society today is undermined by overflowing egomania and no longer characterized by the simple spectacle in Guy Debord’s sense of the term. Society is plagued by the disease of spectacular connection, which no longer creeps into our homes through the TV, but is shot directly into our minds via the web - which I believe is the cause of all mind-dumbing diseases).
During the same time, I found myself arguing about the recent increase in popularity of the so-called star chefs. In recent years, even Alajmo was contacted several times by television networks of various kinds to participate for various reasons in broadcasts related to food, shows like MasterChef and Kitchen Nightmares, to give you an idea. Many of his fellow chefs have tried to persuade him to participate, convinced that Max’s serious and uncorrupted position would contrast what people are used to seeing on TV, giving the broadcasts a real sense of dignity.
In response, I pose a number of arguments in the form of questions here below.
1) Is it really possible to present a serious, deep and uncorrupted opinion in hoped of contrasting what now reigns supreme? Especially given that in order to appear on a popular television series, one must abide to a script or plot written by marketing experts?
2) By participating in the media game, does one not automatically endorse everything that it stands for today? Wouldn’t Massimiliano’s mere presence be an endorsement of the medium. And, based on principle, by accepting the medium wouldn’t it mean that one accepts the game, or rather its rules. Is it not possible that Massimiliano doesn’t want to play the game because he is aware of this subtle, but decisive distinction?
3) When this wave of star chefs goes out of style...won’t the chefs seem a bit annoying, due precisely to the success they enjoyed up until then? Because in Italy, it works this way, to a greater extent and more quickly than in other places: you have to pay for success, sooner or later. Especially when the success was achieved easily, that of the star-chefs seems easy, and even more so in times of crisis.
4) Remember the audience: Italy. Now that the Alajmo brand is directed more to a global audience than to Italy, in this time of deep crisis. Are we sure that popularity in Italy is important to achieving credibility abroad?
5) And with regards to authority and credibility in Italy, not of the general public, but of opinion leaders, journalists and gourmets: are we sure that appearing on television programs is a plus? Will the chefs that avoid appear on TV not be taken more seriously? I am referring to people like Massimiliano who continue to experiment with new ideas and grow professionally (for example with new openings abroad with the goal of improving the perception of the quality of the Made in Italy brand) instead of working outside of their own realm, or rather in television studios. I will paint a portrait of chefs that count today:
- outsiders in terms of TV media;
- ceaseless-experimenters of new culinary ideas;
- partners in the opening of new restaurants.
I can only think of one chef who really meets this portrait of seriousness and concreteness? Why not focus on his undeniable uniqueness, instead of trying to make him part of the circus that soon, I'm sure, will pass?
6) To deliberately emphasize the contrast, well aware of the intrinsic and extrinsic difficulties, why not have him commit to making a TV appearance... but on a more serious show in order to refute that circus? With the intention of not speaking "badly" of the circus. The goal would be to demonstrate that there an alternative way of being a top chef; a chef that talks about ingredients, health, dietary education, flavor, the sense of small and memory…The show would be the antithesis of a reality program (the worst of the worst, pure hypocrisy, the opposite of reality intended as humanity).
7) If Massimiliano were to participate in the circus, he would be the “party-pooper,” which is the worst role to have in a circus? And let’s not forget that a circus requires a script; a ladder with hard and fast rules. Massimiliano is neither a circus performer nor an actor. Although he is beautiful.
11/06/2013 Filippo Maglione