He has published the first book by chef Umberto De Martino, One Michelin Star in San Paolo D’Argon with his restaurant Florian Maison. From Sorrento to Bergamo: history, recipes, stories, with an introduction by Tessa Gelisio. Chef Umberto De Martino is the protagonist of the book that has just come out with his story. Sixty recipes and then scattered among the pages the essential ingredients, those of a life made up of sacrifices, passion, and the desire to communicate his cuisine, with the flavours of his Sorrento and Bergamo’s knowledge where he started his business.
The book focuses primarily on his story, a chef who leaves Sorrento without five thousand lire and arrives in Bergamo with one Michelin Star. The journey from one point to another in the story comprises challenges, falls, successes, great disappointments and even greater joys. The chef almost always tells his story somewhere between the serious and the melancholy, as if he still had some unresolved issue. At a closer look, he is “simple”, eager for revenge, sincerity, tranquillity, with the constant presence of great pride, which certainly stems from his not always rosy life.
“I was born into a simple, normal family, six brothers, and I was the least valued, the second last. I was the least valued because I had a stuttering problem. My father, an old general, the classic southern master father, saw this as a handicap, a negative thing, so much so that I was the ‘village idiot’. This was also made a burden on me at school, so I grew up afraid of exposing myself”. Born in 1974, he had a difficult childhood, which continued with his decision at the age of 15 to leave school and become a cook, a job in which it was not necessary to say much. He decided to do so not so much because it was his passion but because ‘in Sorrento, most people are devoted to tourism, so you’re either a waiter or a cook’.
His father, Giuseppe, a well-known Italian chef, was also a cook. It was from this point that the young Umberto began to take his revenge: “As soon as I learned something, I showed it to the house! The relationship with his father was an important one, a conflictual one throughout, and one that also marked the chef’s emotional journey, more or less unconsciously desiring, always, the approval of this figure who was so strong that he loved him, so severe that he wanted to drive him away. And after a short period of working together but with his father’s judgement weighing on his work, partly out of a sense of revenge, partly out of stubbornness and partly out of that love of cooking transmitted by his closeness to his mother, he began his career in the kitchens, from Hamburg at the La Scala restaurant alongside chef Mario Zini to the starred kitchens in Italy: La Ciau del Tornavento with Maurilio and his Piedmontese cuisine; the Torre del Saraceno with Gennaro Esposito.
If he learned rigour, perfection and care in the latter, it was from his first master, Zini in Hamburg, that he absorbed the love for raw materials, the ability to recognise them on the market stalls, the importance of the continuous study. He keeps himself up to date, keeps himself informed, studies gastronomy, all of it or almost all of it, deepens his knowledge of wine and oil tasting, dwells on the careful selection of local products, privileging his southern origins, the sun and lemons of Sorrento, and mixing everything very well with both Italian and foreign experiences. In March 2015, Chef De Martino decided to stand on his own two feet, taking over the Florian Maison in San Paolo d’Argon (BG), where two years later he won a Michelin star.
His gastronomic vision is based on Sorrento’s flavours, with different cultures embedded and loves risotto, pasta and homemade bread. He is a child of the southern sea but enjoys cooking meat, game and funds more. “I’m from the South, but I’m not as fiery as you would expect from a Neapolitan!” This expression sums up his reserved nature, at first he seems shy, then polite, then some contradictions of his character become clear, decisive, stubborn and humble, too humble, almost to the point of not appreciating what he achieves. “We chefs don’t invent anything; we assemble ingredients, we combine flavours… what interest is there in telling were a recipe of mine comes from? But here comes one of her books!
And so we understand that the fulcrum lies precisely in his emphasis on not inventing anything, because if it is true, as Manzoni teaches us in De Inventione, that the artist never creates anything, that the word “invention” is the frequentative of the Latin verb “invenire”, that is, not to invent from nothing, but to discover, to find within: both within oneself and within the earth that surrounds you and that you carry within you. So perhaps the chef is right, at least in the concept of not inventing. He finds and does so within himself, those flavours of Sorrento, that land he carries within him. The recipes are organised in evocative blocks beyond the classic division into starters, first courses, main courses and desserts. The chef has imagined synaesthetic paths that lead the reader to a total involvement with the five senses:
- Dissent, which contains dishes that the chef presents with force, imposing his cooking idea, with innovative recipes and unusual combinations.
- Clamour, which contains dishes that somehow make a noise, brings together the chef’s contrasts in a balance he directs.
- Suspension, enclosing the chef’s bread, an essential accompaniment worthy of a gastronomic journey
- Whisper, which refers to chef De Martino’s small pastry: no longer a dish, not yet a dessert, it is the instant before the end of the game, it is the detail that makes the difference. It is anticipation dressed in sugar.
Each recipe is matched with the wine and label that best suits the dish, thanks to Francesco Pagani’s advice, who specialises in wine storytelling. Chef photographer Tiziano Carrara’s photographic journey takes the reader directly into the chef’s kitchen.
Edit by Nadia Toppino
Food, Wine & Hospitality consultant