Forty-three years of grit and talent, the chef from Trieste Antonia Klugmann, in addition to preparing dishes of excellence, loves taking care of his garden and studying the wild herbs from which he draws inspiration for his dishes. Together with WWF inaugurates the column "Four seasons of nature at the table" in which, through some recipes written by her, she will tell the wild world of plants.
When and how was your vocation for cooking born?
"For each person, passions come from afar. For me, cooking has always been fundamental at home. My family is from Trieste but I had a grandfather from Puglia, another of Jewish origin and a grandmother from Ferrara. My professionalism, however, was born in independently as I don't have a family of restaurateurs behind me. During university cooking became an obsession. I wasn't tied to a housewife idea but I would say only professional and we are talking about 22 years ago. In those years working in kitchen wasn't as glamorous as it is now. I started out as a dishwasher and then became an entrepreneur at 26. Now I'm 43".
Entrepreneur at just 26, now fame as a chef. Hers is a success story, don't you agree?
"I consider myself very lucky. My sister Vittoria always says that I play. In the last 23 years I have never thought of cooking as a job. I always feel full in my work and in my life. I have become an entrepreneur and I faced some complicated moments, but if you build a coherent path somehow you seem to make sense of that whole. Any work can be seen in this perspective. I can say that I never stop studying. I constantly relate to a part intimate of me that is constantly changing. If I play tennis or take photos and this can give me energy even in my working life, it is a great fortune. It feeds me and offers me new stimuli".
When did you start using foraging in your dishes?
"We call it that because of an Anglo-Saxon influence but there isn't a region where the cuisine isn't imbued with this aspect. In 2005 I had a car accident that forced me home for a year. In those months I lived in countryside and went for walks with books. There weren't apps like now. I went around to observe the herbs and documented myself".
What are your favorite wild herbs?
"Every season there are different herbs. The same grass changes a lot over the seasons. In spring the silene is fantastic. I love herbs. I love bread, wild chicory and an egg or soup with chicory and potatoes. It's a type of diet that I like and it's very Italian".
Does using wild herbs always bring benefits to the environment?
"I start by saying that I don't collect anything rare. Everything that is rare must be left on the ground for renewal. I invite everyone to cut a plant and then observe how long it takes to grow. We need to draw from nature with awareness. I am thinking of the incapacity how destructive one is with the environment and how much is done in an unaware way.Showing a herb, a potato or an artichoke also serves to push people to see that it is not necessary to buy great things: in the kitchen, just some common ingredients. Personally, I don't look for originality at all costs or extreme technical difficulty in my cooking. The real challenge is choosing something different. I'm a big fan of the wild garden. The continuous interaction with what's around us creates a concept of "beautiful" which is different from what is traditional. When I see banks full of ferns they seem perfect because it is nature that is. Wild plants do not need water and particular resources but rich soil and little rain. Understanding ingredients and seasonality has helped me a lot in my job."
How important is sustainability in your life?
"The fact of always relating to time, economic resources and ingredients give me an objective vision of the path I have to take. Buying products from local suppliers is the first step. Sustainability is a daily process. In ten years I hope to be a better cook thanks to the study of ingredients, but the garden is a great school. I also have an orchard that teaches how to relate one's ego to something much more important".
What are chef Klugmann's green actions during the day?
"It certainly starts from the menu. The construction of my dish is circular: taste and the right use of resources. In the type of cuisine I do, preparation can take hours. They are creative, interesting dishes that justify the journey but then they must also have a technical sense. I am always present in the kitchen. My work is like a pebble in a pond. The first circle is the relationship with the customer. Then there is teaching, that is, the story of what is done in the kitchen. Then there is "is the relationship with one's suppliers, enhancing one's own territory. Finally, there is the informational part and this is where my collaboration with the WWF takes over".
Can you tell us about this new experience of yours?
"Our intention is to bring people back into contact with the wild world of plants, rediscovering species that go unnoticed during our walks in green areas or that are often even considered weeds and therefore weeded, torn away or trampled on. We want to inform people about how collect them and use them at the table, to enrich your dishes while respecting nature and the balance of the ecosystem. I will talk about what I do at the restaurant and I will offer some very basic techniques that can be used for other recipes. Then everyone will use them as they see fit ".
Is there anything you would like to accomplish soon?
"I'm making it now. We are renovating a 1650 mill next to my restaurant L'argine di Vencò (Gorizia). It represents the union between ancient and modern and has always been a dream of mine. Inside there will be four rooms. The he idea of building a place of one's own is the key to understanding how I became an entrepreneur. Building your own room is freedom. This is doing business for me".