Enrico Crippa is a perfectionist chef working his magic in the town of Alba at the world renowned restaurant Piazza Duomo. Together with Massimo Bottura, Niko Romito and Massimiliano Alajmo he is a leading light in Italian gastronomy today.
The chef draws a lot of inspiration from art and also a garden which he visits each morning. Before summer we had the opportunity to spend time with this talented Italian chef and interview him. Here are the lessons we have distilled from the time we spent in Alba.
Think outside the box: The best dish that Enrico has ever created does not require any cooking or preparation. It is his world famous insulate which comes directly from the restaurant garden a few kilometres outside Alba. He created it upon a request by some women who wanted a salad at the restaurant. He went out of his way to create something out of the ordinary. The salad does not have any dressing or preparation but requires time to grow the leaves, to clean and assemble them. A work of art.
Don’t be afraid of the moments when you are not creative: The Italian chef used to be harsh with himself when he could not come up with new ideas. Today, with experience and the benefit of hindsight, he knows that these moments will pass by. He says there are days when you don’t find inspiration. Sometimes it could take a week, sometimes even longer but it is not a problem. “I am no longer afraid of the moments when I am not creative. I know that when creativity strikes, there are normally many ideas to work with. Sometimes, in moments of huge creativity you can create five dishes and you need to put them in a file so that you can use them when you are less inspired.”
Use a notebook to jot down ideas: The Italian chef jots down his ideas in notebooks. He has many of these notebooks in which he has jotted ideas many of which have not yet been executed. Every time is good to come up with an idea so the best thing is to write it down because you cannot work on an idea instantly particularly if you preparing for a service.
Listen and respect those with more experience: Crippa’s great mentor is Gualtiero Marchesi. He was fascinated by Japan, their philosophy and work ethic. Enrico did not understand what he was talking about until he got there. The Italian chef says our parents had the faculty to listen to their elders because they had more experience than you. We have lost this ability which is a pity because many times there is no need to reinvent the wheel because people have gone through the same experiences before and we can learn from them.
Love the great outdoors: You will find Enrico outdoors when he is not cooking. He loves cycling and walking, in fact some of his favourite books relate to cycling. He says that this is where he can draw inspiration, walking or cycling and absorbing the environment.
Tradition is harder than innovation: Today everyone pushes for innovation but Enrico believes that it is harder to be traditional because there is no place to hide with tradition. When you create something new, there is no benchmark. You taste it and decide whether you like it or not. With tradition, it has to be prepared in a certain way. Innovation cannot come without knowing and respecting tradition.
Routine is good: Enrico visits his garden on the hills outside Alba every day at 7.30am. It may be an early start to the day after the evening service but for him there is no better way to start the day in touch with nature. Today, nature dictates what he cooks and it is an essential part of his creative process.
Be flexible and open to ideas: Some dishes can be created in the space of a day. You get the idea, you work on it and its ready in one hour. There are other times when it requires much more time and when you never actually finish. There are other dishes that you might work on which you change three to five times but they still don’t work. You put it aside, file it for future reference. We have no scheme when it comes to creativity. Sometimes we might think of a salty dish and it ends up being a dessert. The garden forces his team to think differently. Before they had the garden in 2007, the protein dictated the dishes, today he thinks about the vegetable or the herb first before he decides what will accompany that vegetable. And flexibility and creativity also starts in the garden. For example, using sand and salt they are growing silicone a herb that grows near the sea.
Team work: You can be the most innovative person in the world but without a team you will go nowhere.
Don’t over promise and under deliver. Exceed expectations: With three Michelin stars at his restaurant and constantly climbing the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (he placed 15th this year) his objective is not to go higher. He tells me he loves what he is doing. What is most important for him is to satisfy a client that has travelled to get to the restaurant. He wants to not only meet their expectations but to exceed them. This is a fundamental element for Enrico.
Disconnect: Enrico knows that communication is important but he also does not have the time for social media. Busy during the day he loves to be able to disconnect when he is not working and be completely free. He thinks this also helps him to be original because he prefers to create something that is his.