Chef's Table (2015) s04e02 Episode Script

Corrado Assenza

Gelato being served in the middle of the street? No.
If tourists want that kind of gelato, it's best for them to have it.
What we make at Caffè Sicilia is completely different.
I spend a lot of time finding quality ingredients to make it with more flavor, more aroma, more intensity.
It's soft.
It's creamy.
The customers always want more.
It's not a special thing to produce quality.
It's what we know how to do.
The good that Caffè Sicilia has done, not just for Sicily, but for the whole of Italy, is incredible.
But he is not very well-known because he does not care about the spotlight.
Instead, he promotes artisans.
He promotes ingredients.
He promotes territory.
Do you want chocolate and lemon or just lemon? Chocolate and lemon.
Here it is.
What do we say? Thank you.
The passing of one generation to the next is a part of Caffè Sicilia's history.
We have clients who first came in a stroller, who today are parents or grandparents, bringing their own kids or grandkids.
Can I have another? No, honey, or you're gonna burst.
You can sweep away tradition in a short period of time, and substitute it with something else.
I can't do that.
I have deep roots here in Sicily, my land where I live and work.
The clear air, the blue sky, the strong yellow of the wild dried herbs.
The light, the sounds, the colors a spectacular landscape that produces the best ingredients in the world.
It inspires me to create from nature, to understand what is good and can be transformed into food.
This is how you build a recipe.
I want to protect and share our culture, to honor our traditions.
In every expression of our work, bringing to the world a perspective that belongs to this land.
Here is your tomato-strawberry granita with brioche.
Granita is a sweet dish, made of flavored ice, like a sorbet.
Almost all Sicilians eat granita and brioche for breakfast.
And there are two different groups of people: those who eat almond every morning, and those who eat lemon every morning.
And they don't change.
I prefer the almond.
This is the place where we grow the best almonds in the world.
We use the entire almond to make the granita, and you taste the difference.
The richness of taste, the notes of sweetness, it's the touch of something which refreshes your palate, but simultaneously refreshes your mind.
As a kid, Sicily was my paradise.
I grew up in the countryside, in Noto.
My aunt managed Caffè Sicilia.
Every day after school, I'd go meet my aunt in the store.
We'd eat almond granita and shortbread cookies with apricot jam.
I'd eat too many.
We had a small citrus orchard that my father planted.
During the summer, Dad picked fruit in the morning.
Then we would all get in the car and drive to the ocean.
When we finished swimming in the salt water, we would refresh ourselves with fruit picked that morning.
Sea water and just-picked fruit.
Very fresh, flavorful, good very simple.
I learned to appreciate the simplicity of our land.
Caffè Sicilia was important to the village, a landmark for many.
It has been passed down in my family for four generations.
But the laboratory was entrusted to the only pastry chef not from the family, Mr.
Roberto Giusto.
He lived to work and was recognized as important by the whole town.
I'd play in the laboratory with Maestro Roberto.
For me, it was a playground.
Roberto would give me little chores like in a house, like in a family: bringing a kilo of flour, bringing the almonds, bringing the honey vase He started to teach me about life in Noto and at Caffè Sicilia.
He said the work of the pastry chef is to make the classic Italian pastries.
But it isn't enough to know kitchen techniques.
You have to recognize raw materials in nature and respect the land.
The customers must be able to see the ingredient's quality when they taste our pastries.
The laboratory was the place where I felt most like myself.
It was my home.
What do we have to do for Gennaro Esposito? We have to make four 1.
5 kilo cassata, 150 arancini, 120 cannoli, 120 almond biscuits.
There's almond paste 2030-gram ones and we have to bring the arancini to Catania to fry them.
The cannoli is the Sicilian pastry.
They were born in Sicily, and the world knows them as Sicilian.
The dough preparation, one by one, all by hand, all consistently equal.
You must be accurate, fast, to make it perfect.
I learned from the lessons of Maestro Roberto, and I passed it down to my son, Francesco.
As a boy, he used to come to our kitchen, and, with a rolling pin, started flattening the cannoli dough, covering himself with flour.
Now, when he works with me, he no longer covers himself with flour, but he still flattens the cannoli.
We've made our cannoli for generations.
You can recognize the cannolo stretched out by each of us, adding our own personality with our rolling pins, so that, when the cannolo is finished, it becomes the unmistakable icon of Caffè Sicilia.
I had spent years of my childhood in the laboratory with my teacher, Roberto Giusto.
And then I grew up.
I'm a child of the '60s and was influenced by everything happening around me.
I wanted to discover the world, to learn more than I could in Sicily.
I liked the farmer's life, so when I was 17, I left Noto to study agriculture in Bologna at the university.
My new adventure allowed me to grow, to observe the world from another point of view.
I studied with a great beekeeper, who gave me my first lessons on decoding the language of the bees.
We observed the intensity of the bees' dance.
The more bees move their back, the closer, the more intense, the stronger the nectar is.
I was fascinated.
It became my great passion.
During that time, I fell in love with a nurse, Nives.
Like me, she grew up in a kitchen.
Together, we built a life in Bologna.
Then, one day, this phone call came.
My aunt was sick and could no longer keep Caffè Sicilia.
My aunt told me, "I cannot do it anymore.
Either you take care of it, or we'll lose it.
" The first thing I immediately thought was, "If my aunt sells Caffè Sicilia, I cannot get in the laboratory.
I will not be able to go to my playroom anymore.
" Nives and I discussed, "What do we do?" In that moment, there were two loves in my life: my life in Bologna and my life in Noto.
My roots.
It was a very difficult moment.
Ultimately, we chose the pastry shop.
We left everything and returned home.
There she is.
Here, here.
Good girl.
Come here.
To make pastries, you don't need industry.
When purchasing raw materials, I go directly to the farmers of our land.
There is no quality in the ingredient if there is no quality in the person that produces it.
So you need to find farmers who understand quality in their work.
Franzo, our great shepherd and ricotta producer, works from 2:30 a.
to midnight, hand milking over 500 animals to make the ricotta perfect.
Franzo is a person of quality, extremely serious and rigorous.
But the public doesn't know anything about his work, and that's a huge regret for me.
I want him to succeed in giving a future to his family and his farm.
So I made my friends appreciate Franzo's products, cooks, pizza makers, pastry chefs, and now they buy his cheeses.
He always thanks me for what I am doing for him, but it's me who should constantly thank him.
The gelato I make with the ricotta, flavored with rum and chopped pistachios, would be impossible without Franzo's work.
It's my duty, if he gives me his perfect ricotta, to make the perfect gelato.
After seven years, I was back at Caffè Sicilia.
Even though, as a kid, I spent a lot of time in the lab, I didn't really understand the job of a pastry chef.
And now, I was responsible for everything.
I was lost.
I had questions, many questions.
I turned to Maestro Roberto.
But he told me, "I'm not going to teach you anything.
This is not school.
This is a place where you work.
You have to be independent.
" So I spent my time watching Roberto work.
I learned by looking, watching his hands making the recipes, until I was able to start doing it.
Little by little, I was able to find my way of understanding, without asking.
Finally, I felt able to manage the pastry shop.
Do we have to make them all pink? All pink, like the fuchsia dress So I'm making that fuchsia, with little white flowers.
We'll make the white flowers with whipped cream spikes, or maybe we could put sugared almonds if they wouldn't melt with the cream, but they'll melt, so we're gonna make white cream.
Over time, it became increasingly difficult to focus only on the work inside of the kitchen.
Sicily had become commercialized.
Where there were once vegetable gardens, those lands were used to build shopping centers.
Fake cities, where you don't buy fresh.
You buy preserved.
And you call that civilization? This is ignorance.
I knew there was still quality everywhere in Sicily.
I needed to make the world understand the difference between a commercialized product and the quality born in this land.
I considered, "What can we get from our land that's unique and higher quality than from elsewhere?" And I remembered the apricot.
The apricot is the first jam children eat.
But what they know is an industrialized product.
We have always made our marmalade the same way for 125 years at Caffè Sicilia.
So, I worked on the apricot.
I modernized it, made it current, reducing the added sugar to respect the purity of the fresh fruit.
And I began making all of the other timeless recipes with the ingredients I find here in Sicily: the cassata, the cannoli, the ricotta gelato.
Now, every time a child tastes my apricot jam, I feel joy.
Making my apricot jam helped me to understand the foundation of Caffè Sicilia.
I discovered my purpose.
Those Saturn peaches are great.
Can you give me a kilo? Wait, an apricot.
There's another one.
Have a nice day.
By the early 2000s, after years of working with the same recipes and ingredients, I wanted to do more.
I was looking to build new flavor, to push the boundaries of sweetness in dessert.
And there I saw my granita.
I asked myself, "What can we serve with it?" I started thinking about the feeling of the sea, the feeling you get when you open an oyster.
It dawned on me.
Put them together, the oyster and the almond.
Marry the two that would otherwise never marry.
It was strong, robust.
I thought it was the perfect balance.
The combination of salt water and that sweetness, like biting into fresh fruit.
When all that exploded in my mouth, I thought, "I have already tasted this.
" And memories came back.
It inspired me.
I realized I could use the taste of my childhood to create a new sweetness, something that didn't exist in pastry making.
So I created more and more, more and more, more and more.
I started to bring down barriers between sweet and salty.
This was considered heresy in Sicilian cuisine.
Our customers didn't like it at all.
They wanted the classics of Caffè Sicilia.
His thoughts are boundless, but, as is often the case, no one is a prophet in their own country.
We had lost the trust of the customers.
Four generations of tradition, in trouble.
I'd always had Roberto near when I didn't know what to do.
But in that moment, he got sick.
He was no longer able to walk and was not able to come into Caffè Sicilia.
I couldn't ask for advice on what he would have done.
And then he passed away.
It was a huge loss.
I was alone.
He left me with a huge responsibility.
I asked myself, "If Maestro Roberto was here now, what would he do?" I thought about what he taught me, how to make the basic recipes with quality ingredients.
But the most important ingredient was at risk.
So, while the Romana almond has become the most famous almond of our land There's very few of them.
Romana, here it is.
I needed to figure out what was happening.
So, I went to the farmers.
They told me that the big problem was the traders, who decided the almond was not worth investing money in.
As a result, the farmers abandoned the land.
It was a massacre.
Without the almond, I couldn't make almond granita.
The taste of Caffè Sicilia was disappearing.
I had to do something.
So I put together a plan to save the almond.
We would cut out the traders, so the farmers could sell the almond directly to us.
We started to spread it among the farmers.
I had to convince them to fight for the almond because it's a cultural heritage.
Because if it disappears, it will never come back.
It was a long and slow process, but eventually they wanted to work with us.
We brought it to the taste expo in Milan.
From that moment on, the world knew of the existence of our almond.
Then, I went back to the laboratory to work on a new recipe to highlight the almond.
The Terra Nostra is made of two layers of sorbet: a layer of white almond and a layer of green pistachio.
It's called the Terra Nostra because it represents "our land.
" Corrado saves Noto's almond, but also saves traditional Sicilian pastry making.
If today we talk about the almond, it's thanks to Corrado.
I rediscovered my purpose, to preserve my land, my Sicily.
Sicily is changing over time.
Many of the small businesses, shops, are gone.
But after four generations, Caffè Sicilia has remained.
It has become a lively stream, water flowing among rocks, fresh, that consistently renews itself, but always flows in the same riverbed.
But now, many years have passed.
I don't want to, but I need to focus on the future, where there's a new generation of pastry chefs, led by my son, Francesco.
As a child, he worked with me.
Then he left to work in the kitchen of Le Calandre, with my friend Massimiliano Alajmo.
But when Massimiliano offered him a two-year contract, Francesco said, "Massimiliano, thank you so much.
I'd love to, but I have to go and help out my dad.
" Massimiliano said, "Okay.
" It's absolutely natural that he returned to Noto, because who better than his father to teach him the true essence of what he does.
I believe he can also bring new life to his father's work.
Like me, he needed to go away from Noto to choose Noto, to go away from Caffè Sicilia to choose Caffè Sicilia.
What concerns me more than before is leaving him in the best position to go on his path with his ideas.
We're ready.
I've chosen my path, and I've followed it.
Now, I have no ambition.
A life of simplicity, of quality, and my family makes me happy and satisfied.
I sleep well at night because I give the best of what I can do to those who come and taste what we make.
So I'm happy, and I can sleep peacefully.