Andrea Matranga’s dreaming in Japan
Italian gastronomy is well known in the world. But story of chef Andrea Mantranga is something special. Born in Sicily in 1968, he is known for his deep approach to the cuisine where nothing happens just casually. He loves to explore new ingredients and techniques and creates with his poetical nature masterpieces which are like discoveries of new lands. So it’s not strange that his name is since 2006 connected also with Japan. He was invited there for one year, where he successfully managed famous restaurant Cascina at Fukui, after that he returned to his Sicily and now he is back to Japan for the next three years to become executive chef of the same restaurant and to develop something much much bigger.
What has brought you to the world of gastronomy and how did you decide to become a chef?
It was a funny case! When I was young I was playing valley ball as a professional and we had a cook who was not capable to cook even eggs. This was the motive that I started to cook – it was to survive! At the same time I had a girlfriend (she is now my wife) who was managing bars and this brought me even more to the world of gastronomy. Another reason was my friend who was a chef managing a restaurant in province of Palermo who has involved me in this world. My great curiosity did all the rest. Behind me is a journey through many different trattorias and great restaurants which each f them influenced somehow my actual cooking.
Your life has taken you to Japan in the past. You returned to Sicily after one year and now you are back to Japan. What is the story behind it?
In 2006 I was contacted by famous Japanese restaurateur, Mr. Fukushima, owner of the restaurant Cascina from Fukui. He has heard about me and contacted me through an Italian agent who works in Japan. I have immediately accepted his invitation. He wanted a consultant who would create the new menu for his Italian gourmet restaurant and train the staff. After I have done my work I have decided to return to Italy. Some months ago he has contacted me again with the same proposal, but I refused it. I wanted to do something more important. I wanted to become executive chef of the restaurant Cascina and of a certain project, that was immediately accepted by Mr. Fukushima with his great enthusiasm. Our idea is not limited on the Fukui region, but we plan to spread it to the whole Japan and to the world. We want to create collaborations between local and Italian gastronomy producers, chefs, sommeliers. We have, by the way one of the greatest wine cellars with important Italian and French wines even from beginning of 19th century. Developing a project like this in Tokio would be easy, in Fukui it’s a big challenge. But we love challenges.
How do you see the Italian and how the Japanese gastronomy? What do you love about each of them?
Italian gastronomy is for me like a Ferrari: great potential, loved by everybody, but it never gets there … There are different reasons. One of them is not strong enough collaboration between producers and chefs. In Japanese cuisine instead I love the seriousness, excellent technique and deep study that everybody does before calling himself a chef. That’s something we are missing in Italy: today o Italian scene you can find also showmen, photographers, actors, lawyers etc who call themselves chefs, without having the right knowledge and training.
Did you have any interesting experience in Japan which was caused by meeting of the two different cultures?
Yes, once I had prepared as dessert for a dinner of a group of ladies Babà. My Japanese colleague has asked me the name of this dessert and when I’ve told him that it is Babà he was embarrassed and said that maybe it’s not the case to offer it … I was a bit angry and insisted, he instead, always extremely polite didn’t tell me the reason, but only insisted that it’s not the case to serve it. I was more and more upset when my translator explained that “Babà chan” in Japanese means “old lady” so I started to laugh and simply changed the name of the dessert which was then served anyway and the ladies loved it.
How would you describe your cuisine and what are your typical characteristics?
My cuisine is very emotional. My dishes are always born out of an emotion, a memory, a will to express myself and my emotions. But the base is always fresh local ingredient, and always something connected to my roots, my land.
Let’s go to your childhood. Are there any memories, flavours and perfumes which you have included into your cuisine?
Practically all my dishes have roots in my youth – like for example “Ricordi Isolati/Isolated memories”, ” La scogliera i suoi elementi/Sea rock and its elements”..
Do in your cuisine exist any special ingredients that you use more often?
No, I don’t like to concentrate on any ingredient. If I would I wouldn’t be able to follow the seasons. Ad then I love the variety.
Who were your tutors, persons who made the deepest impact on you? Who has left the deepest trace and how?
My mentor is Massimo Bottura, I’ve learned a lot from him. I couldn’t do it otherwise. Base of everything is a strong emotion which has to come out – as the musician creates music and a sculpture is sculpturing I do it with my dishes.
What or who is inspiring you today?
As I said before – I’m inspired by my emotions, I don’t have particular targets.
Creativity and technique. What is more important and why?
The first one can’t and shouldn’t exist without the second. In the creativity you can improvise, but in technique you should always be precise.
Your favourite dish?
All and none. I don’t like this questions because I don’t have any preferences regarding my dishes: it’s like father to his children – I can’t make differences between them – I love them all!
Your greatest success?
It has still to come.
Do you have any feasible or already fulfilled dream?
I have already fulfilled many of them – but the next one is always the most beautiful.
Do you have any unattainable dream?
Yes, to create a soup which would make you feel the sea in the tempest, in a windy day when waves break into the rocks.
If you wouldn’t be a chef, what would you like to do?
I would like to be involved in professional sports, but the cuisine has won over everything.