Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chef Giachello's research of flavors

Restaurant La Smarrita is a culinary symbol in Turin; located in Palazzo Salmatoris in the super central Piazza Carlo Alberto, this is where the Kingdom of Italy was born in 1861 and where Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, the first Italian Prime Minister, had his office. In fact, he just needed to cross the square to get to Palazzo Carignano, the very first Italian Parliament.
Today, La Smarrita strives to keep the Langhe culinary traditions alive in the heart Turin offering authentic seasonal specialties paired with the best wines of small selected local producers. 
The commander in chief of the kitchen is Chef Marco Giachello, a Turinese at heart, or "DOC" as you would say in Italian, borrowing the high quality certification of Italian wines (controlled designation of origin).
Chef Giachello majored in cooking from high school and worked his culinary career up from the lower levels of restaurant kitchens, to the top of the best Turin's restaurants. 
His passion for food and local products was shaped by his maternal grandmother, nonna Teresa who just like his mom, was a very skilled cook. Growing up, Marco would spend the summer in the Langhe wine district at his maternal grandparents' who had a small vineyard, tiny orchard and a small vegetable garden. Most of what they cooked and ate came directly from their land and nonna Teresa would craft amazing traditional meals!

Chef Marco Giachello 
Before landing on La Smarrita kitchen, Chef Giachello he took fully advantage of the collaboration with the best chefs in town; thanks to them, he gained a varied work experience, spanning from  the Tuscan cuisine in the 1980s to a more commercial one, with large orders. "La Smarrita and its traditional cuisine of the Langhe was a precise choice" he explains "because the authentic flavors are the easiest to slightly twist and reinterpret in a more contemporary style". 
Chef Giachello's culinary mission is to research the authentic flavors of his childhood, keeping the harmony of the textures within the balance of the menu. To him, each ingredient is the real basis of a good dish, if seasoning covers it, it looses its soul and it's not good. This is his culinary philosophy and what he teaches to his multicultural team.

Surprisingly, despite his Langhe origins, he is a teetotaller, yes, you got it, he doesn't drink wine. But as wine is a staple of the Piedmontese cuisine, he still cooks with it, trying to balance all the aromas and scents. Moreover, in his research of authenticity, he subs traditional vinegar with lemon juice in his carpione recipes (vegetables or fish pickled or marinated over night) to enhance the quality of the main ingredient.
Following the same principle, his red wine braised meats don't really taste like wine, but rather keep their true essence. In fact, il brasato is one of his top specialties, together with all the meats, making of the meat counter his favorite corner of the kitchen! 
Tajarin with sausage Bolognese sauce
Speaking of pasta dishes, between two very regional specialties: agnolotti and tajarin, he easily picks the tajarin. This long fresh egg-based pasta is very flexible and he can serve it in endless different ways: with vegetables, meat sauces, tomato or just herbs and butter. When making agnolotti, he strictly complies with his mom's recipe for the filling and loves them with melted butter and sage leaves, as per centennial tradition.

handmade agnolotti with zucchini flowers and Castelmagno cheese crumbs
Desserts allow him much more freedom as he can expand the flavors of certain ingredients and all the the customers are always very appreciative! In 2011 he created the Cavour pie, a reinterpretation of our regional chocolate cake with a hazelnut crust and a heart of chocolate. In the summer he serves a cloudy soft cassata-like dessert made of whipped ricotta. 

La Smarrita tables in the piazza in the summer
Summer also brings fish on La Smarrita tables and this is another area of experimentation, where Chef Giachello can really show off his skills. Octopuses, prawns, salmons and red mullets are the protagonists of the menu; they get marinated in different ways and often, also smoked. He personally prepares the marinades with salt, sugar, spices and herbs, creating a new blend for each fish. He also personally selects the woods for the smoking process, like the Langhe acacia wood which is milder and sweeter than others and it can be easily used for meats too, like for his smoked carpaccio served with robiola cheese or a red wine reduction.
Naturally, La Smarrita menu always includes the regional staple dishes: vitel tonne' for antipasto, a scrumptious Barbera wine risotto served with  a Robiola di Roccaverano fondue, a gourmand veal guanciale (jowl) braised in red wine and glorious bonet and his Cavour pie.
Every two months the menu gets updated to include the seasonal ingredients and to allow returning customers to always sample different things. 

Eating at La Smarrita's is much more than a traditional meal, it's a trip down Chef Giachello's family and culinary memories, when he spent the summer at his maternal grandparents, and he would start the day with a continental-like breakfast to fuel his day in the vineyard, in the hazelnut grove and picking the Santa Clara plums in the orchard. Nonna Teresa would prepare sandwiches, large dishes of lunch meats and cheeses, eggs over easy and even pinzimonio (raw vegetables to dip into olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice).
As a father of eight-year-old Carola, he tries to expose her to as many flavors to build her palate, to give her his culinary legacy. At home, Carola takes over the role of sous chef, helping her chef dad, testing new dishes. and putting into practice her pediatrician's nutritional recommendations that have given a more structured diet to the whole family.

The Turin Epicurean Capital team is very grateful to the La Smarrita's management and Chef Giachello because we and our guests could all personally try their delicacies during the 2014 edition as they offered our opening apericena. For the occasion we had a rich selection of delicious vegetarian and regional finger foods that we could savor in the privacy of a room reserved for us! 

the mirrors room at La Smarrita's
As you can easily imagine, walking through La Smarrita's front door is like going through the stargate: you fly back to the 1700, in a restaurant that belongs to the Turin's history and culture, where the rooms show their original elegance of stuccoes, boiseries, chrystal chandeliers, furniture and mirrors. Needless to tell you that eating in such an elegant and unique atmosphere we all felt like royals for one night and the food was simply amazing!

Mark La Smarrita down for when you make it to Turin, to experience the authentic Piedmontese specialties and a piece of the Italian history. Remember about Chef Marco Giachello because his dishes will walk you through his memories!
In the meantime, on this link you can read the menu and try visualize all the courses and the wines;)



  1. What a great story! I look forward to visiting here in September.

  2. Lucia, I enjoyed this profile of Chef Giachello and his creations, particularly since the chef weaves his family's culinary heritage into his current dishes. I must confess that the delicate desserts and handmade Agnolotti with Zucchini Flowers is tempting my tummy. I'm wondering if they can be fashioned into gluten-free versions?