A while ago I was contacted by Angela Frenda and Tommaso Galli from Corriere della Sera in Italy. The newspaper was about to start a monthly food magazine, “Cook”. The magazine wanted to give the Italian food magazine market a new and fresh look. Tommaso and Angela’s passion for the food industry left me in no doubt that they were serious about including the best of the best and the magazine would serve as an inspiration for Italian food enthusiasts. And, as far as food enthusiasts are concerned, the Italians have a particular passion for food that you don’t see often in other cultures.
For the first issue of Cook we went to photograph Norbert Niederkofler in the Dolomites. I have worked with many chefs in my time as a photographer. Some have inspired me with their passion and ideas and others have inspired me with impressive locations and settings. If you want to be truly impressed in all areas of the visual and palatable sensory organs then head up to the three Micheline star chef Niederkofler. His restaurant, a part of the Hotel Rosa Alpina in the Dolomites, has views you can kill for as well as food which looks great, tastes delicious, is sustainably sourced and focuses on no waste. What more can you ask for?
When we arrived at the hotel, just over 3 hours drive from Verona we had already lost our breath by the sheer beauty of the curvy roads leading up the mountains. Norbert then ushered us into his car and we continued up to the top of the nearby mountain. Just above the tree line we found ourselves between white/grey rocks and a white/grey sky. Not a bad start after having woken up to a London night sky earlier that morning.
Norbert was generous with his time and knowledge. He spoke of his passion for food but also for the place we found ourselves. A place with so much history as it finds itself on the boarder of three nations and is one of the most connected ski resorts in the whole world, with a ski slope network that is so extensive it reads like a spider’s web on acid.
However, this was not a season for skiing. Mid July was more a month of motorised mountain bicycles (which were everywhere you looked,) and pristine green fields with wildflowers. In every valley you should see Julia Andrews’ lookalikes running down with arms stretched out. My lungs were filled with air so pure it reverted the ageing process and my lungs retreated into infancy stage.
We had the true pleasure of eating at Norbert’s kitchen table. A table looking over the kitchen and the focus, art and craft that it takes to be a 3 Michelin star kitchen. The food was served to us and the inspiration and thought behind every dish was carefully explained to us. The ingredients were all locally sourced and in season. An impressive task considering the inhospitable climates you face in the alps. Even more impressive considering that they have the same ethos all year around. For example, ingredients and flavours created by ingredients such as Olive oil and lemon juices had been replaced with ingredients that could be locally sourced. Nothing was wasted, but many dishes came in two parts. One dish would consist of the more luxurious part of an animal for example, whilst the next dish would be a great tasting dish made of the parts that were not used in the first dish. And so it went on, every dish a joy to the pallet.
The day after we woke up and headed up to a near by mountain top where the hotel owned a cabin. The kitchen staff and Norbert were serving up a mountain picnic. I’m not talking a baguette on a rock with a nice view, but a carefully thought through 5 course meal cooked to perfection, with a view that could make a grown man cry. After the meal we headed down to one of Norbert’s local suppliers who showed us around his organic farm perched on the mountain side.
Admittedly, seeing this in the summer light makes it all seem very idyllic. The snow covered mountains in the winter would also seem like an idyl to the eye. But I have a feeling that the existence that Norbert has chosen, to locally source and be true to the place where he works and lives, demands great discipline and hard work. Many of the dishes served during the summer months cannot be planned far ahead as it all depends on what the local suppliers can provide. And the winter menus need to be considered and prepared in the summer unless they only want to serve wild Groundhogs with snow and icicles on the side.
Shot for Cook – Corriere della Sera