Davide Oldani is a fascinating person. He is one of those great chefs who don’t let anything to chance but are deeply thoughtful about every detail - from the cuisine itself to affordability. He went even further in creating the culinary experience that includes designing objects which make guests’ stay even more pleasant. He is one of the most famous Italian chefs and one of the most fascinating thinkers in the Italian food world, so it is not at all surprising that his restaurant D’O, not far from Milano, needs to be booked more than six months in advance. Well, what awaits you is worth waiting for!
How did you become a chef? Were you always in love with cooking? You were also a very promising football player …
I was always interested in cooking so my decision to study at a culinary school was very natural. My mother was always cooking and she was very good at it, so I imagine that’s what started my passion and interest. After finishing school I gained experience with the legendary chefs Gualtiero Marchesi, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Herme and Albert Roux.
Football was my passion before cooking - at the age of 12. At 16 I was already in the Italian third league. Even if I chose cooking I remain a sportsperson. I am aware that food and sport are two basic stepping stones to a healthy life and I still practice sports regularly.
Your cuisine is often described as “cucina pop”. What is it?
I prefer avoiding labels, so I like to describe my cooking simply as a well-thought-out haute cuisine. My new restaurant, which was opened recently and which was created from scratch, is a result of my thoughts and experiences accumulated throughout my entire life. It is based on great cooking, sustainability and affordability. It’s about great flavours and affordability which are made possible through the usage of seasonal products.
So I would say that for me “cucina pop” is in a balance between the contrasts of affordability and seasonality. If I offer you a dish composed of contrasts like savoury and sweet, sour and alkaline, with textures which include creaminess and crispyness, but all perfectly balanced, I will tickle all the senses of your palate. These are the rules of haute cuisine and there is a very strong logic behind every dish created this way.
What role do sweet components have in your cuisine?
There are no limits anymore between sweet and savoury. I would describe my cooking as a research of balance between savoury and sweet. You may, for example, find chocolate in a starter - but since I am always looking for balance, you will in such a case not find it in the dessert. In the dessert you could find for example rosemary or estragon … It’s about the balance of the contrasts, about creating harmony, about not repeating the same ingredients in the same menu.
What about chocolate?
Chocolate is a product I’m really in love with - that’s why I was also happy to become a Cacao Barry Ambassador. I love to work with chocolate, adding spices and herbs to it for example. Right now I am creating my new chocolate at the Cacao Barry’s Or Noir Lab in Paris. The mixture will have a very strong sour note and will be based on strong fermentation.
Your signature dessert based on chocolate?
Right now on our menu at D’O an Or Noir veloute with small cappelleti of grana and bread and on the top a bit of perfume of fresh mint and herbs - we create an oily infusion and spray it on the top.
You also design objects, and with such success that some great brands asked you to design some for them …
Yes, I started designing because besides creating pop cuisine I also wanted to offer my guests everything they need. In my thirteen years of running my first restaurant, I became well aware of the needs of guests. I designed plates, cutlery and glasses and now, for my new restaurant, I designed also tables and chairs. The chairs have a space for the bag below the seat and there is also a place for phones and glasses. The table I designed is 80 cm high instead of the ordinary 75 cm and the chairs 50 cm instead of 45 cm. The reason is my belief that digestion has to start already at the table and these dimensions allow it to happen. My design is also sustainable - I made tables out of elm wood which is locally available.
Now you are also the sport and food ambassador of the Italian Olympic team at Casa Italia in Rio. I see two of the most important Italian newspapers have just published whole-page articles about it. How are you living this experience?
It’s great. I love the concept of Casa Italia. I love being here surrounded by the Olympics, even more, because I am starting to teach at a culinary school in Milano in September and I want to talk also about sports. I believe we need to talk to young people about food, health, sport, responsibility, about ethics. And this Olympic experience of cooking based on Italian and Brazilian ingredients for the people involved in sport is very inspiring to me. You can’t be a sportsman without eating well and healthily, you can’t eat well without moving. Every person needs two basic things: food and movement.
Is there any chocolate-based dish on your Olympic menu?
Of course! We made a Caprese cake with Cacao Barry chocolate!
Just before leaving for Rio, you published a book about food and sport. What is your rule number one?
Eating healthy and in small quantities.
And how do you eat?
One day I eat fish and meat, another day fruit and vegetables, one-day carbohydrates - that day I also eat chocolate - and one day I don’t eat at all.
What about sport and chocolate?
Of course! But a bit of each. What is important is not to exaggerate in any direction. Like in my cuisine - everything in life is about the equilibrium of contrasts.
What are your dreams for the future?
I wish to see my daughter growing up into a happy person and for myself, I wish to continue being satisfied with my career, my private life and my relations with people who enter into my life. All this is a consequence of the values I received from my family.
What do you love best about your work?
Passion. Passion before anything else. I love living well and intensely.
What would be your advice for the young cooks?
The best advice I can give is to put a great effort into what they are doing and to listen to their parents.