Milan, a Michelin-starred restaurant and two women deeply passionate about savouring all the wonderful things in life, from food to emotions, and even pipes. Sandra Ciciriello, who has turned her passion for taste into a profession, offers some thought-provoking insight into the relationship between food and slow smoking.
Some encounters are fleeting, others more permanent. To lift a moment to eternity the initial contact should be capable of opening seemingly inaccessible doors. This happens when two people meet, but also when new flavours are combined together. Sandra Ciciriello has succeeded in transforming her encounter with Viviana Varese into an opportunity to explore new taste frontiers, and this partnership has resulted in “Alice”, their restaurant in Milan that has been awarded the prestigious Michelin star for culinary excellence.
Food can open wide the doors of the soul, and Sandra is well aware of this. Everything is first and foremost tangible and our mouths are the first to explore the world around us. Since infancy the mouth has represented nutrition and knowledge. The “other” and the “elsewhere” can be tasted and what is external, unfamiliar and different from us is savoured through our mouths. Through this first encounter in such a small space the heart and brain unlocks, and the same thing happens when we explore the flavours of “Alice”, as the senses awake and the story begins.
Sandra’s life is a constant sharpening of the senses. She has been choosing the raw material, conversing with Mother Nature for twenty-five years. She falls in love with ingredients and selects them. Viviana transforms that first emotion into love and offers it to the “other” through her recipes. Intuition turns into reality, consumed through the union between food and body in the clients’ mouths and from there stirs their emotional universe.
However, the mouth also means communication, the antechamber to truth and dictionary of emotions. The tongue touches the palate, the lips vibrate, they open and close, the voice takes shape and the result is an encounter with the other. The spirit speaks through the word and unlocks other doors, souls and mouths. Nothing physical in this case, just breath that turns into an utterance. Everything happens in a small, limited space. The mouth is a no-man’s land between soul and flesh, between matter and thought, a place through which we discover and are discovered. In the same way, when the pipe’s mouthpiece is held between the lips and enters this sacred and profane temple the body gets ready to receive, taste and savour the tobacco, just as it does for a fine dish, but unlike tasting fine food it is the soul that pays homage, not the stomach and soul. The tactile element is the pipe’s sensual grip, the heat from the burning tobacco which warms our hands, and the sturdiness of horn or ebonite through which the breath passes and fuses with the soul. Then, as happens for words, it is in the most ethereal part that the encounter crystallizes, in an intimate dialogue that transforms smoke into emotions, a dialogue that is above all with ourselves. It is only if you have been lucky enough to come across someone who resembles you, as Sandra says, that you feel free to share blissful idle moments in the true meaning of the encounter with the right tobacco, relaxing in an armchair.
Thank you, Sandra, for making us comfortable in one of the armchairs in your collection and for telling us about yourself, your dishes and pipe. Along with the recipe you have offered to titillate our taste buds and soul, we have added a tobacco which will have the same effect.
Seafood salad served on a red cabbage broth and grapefruit granita.
Sandra’s creativity is inspired above all by colours. The sight of something sets this in motion, and sight is one of the most stimulated senses, especially at the market. Years spent working with bright colours and strong aromas have enabled her to steer her way easily through the various shades of blue that the sea leaves clinging to its inhabitants. It is always a question of practice. It is Nature that makes its breath felt through its colours and it is precisely in that breath that Sandra feels at home. It is here that she fuses with matter and selects her ingredients. Blue is the quintessential colour, especially as regards fish, and blue is also the colour of the deep, sensitivity and of the soul. The colour blue takes you to the heart of things, to what you are essentially and it lifts you gently to a higher level of understanding where a miracle occurs. A dash of red is sometimes added to the perceptive blue and a dream comes true on your plate. Bon appétit.
4 squid and tentacles
4 violet shrimps from San Remo
4 small octopi
1 large cuttlefish
100 g hairy mussels
100 g razor-shells
100 g Venus clams
100 g white clams
500 g octopus
Extra virgin olive oil as required
For red cabbage broth
200 g red cabbage
500 g water
salt to taste
For grapefruit granita
2 pink grapefruits
75 g water
35 g sugar
Parsley sauce as required
Beetroot mayonnaise as required
First make the granita. Boil sugar and water in a pan, then chill in the fridge. Squeeze the grapefruits, filter the juice and combine with syrup. Put the mixture in a container and freeze. Then grate the granita with a fork and keep it in the freezer until ready for serving. Slice the cabbage thinly, put it into a pan with water and two pinches of salt, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the cabbage, but keep the water and put both in the fridge. Clean all the mollusks. Soak the seafood in salt water. Add seafood to pan to open shells in order of size: first the Venus clams, then after a minute the hairy mussels, next the razor-shells and white clams. Add a ladle of water and cover with a lid until the shells open. Remove the shells from the seafood and put in the fridge.
Fill a pan with slightly salted water and bring to the boil. Immerse the octopus in the water and boil for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the octopus in the water for a further 15 minutes.
In another pan boil some slightly salted water and add the cuttlefish (4 minutes), squid (3 minutes), small octopus (2 minutes) and shelled prawns and shrimps (2 minutes).
Chop the cuttlefish, squid and octopus as soon as they are cooked. Combine all of them together and season with salt and pepper and add olive oil.
Season the blue broth from the cabbage with salt to taste and toss the boiled cabbage in extra virgin olive oil and season with salt.
Combining the ingredients
Take a pasta plate and fill the bottom with the blue broth from the cabbage. Add the boiled cabbage and seafood salad. Dress with parsley sauce and beetroot mayonnaise. Finally add the granita, which on contact with the blue broth changes pH and turns fuchsia.
Orlik Golden Sliced Tobacco
When reading Sandra’s recipe and her blue sea, the word “tangy” immediately came to mind. Tangy like certain evenings in the company of friends, tangy like the wind that ruffles your hair and strokes your soul. Tangy as only a flash of glistening red on blue can be. Our tobacco is also tangy, ideal to extend that sensation of sweet freedom that the taste buds have when experiencing a dish. First you are wrapped in a sweet Virginia aroma that prepares the soul to embrace the tobacco. Then a hint of cheeky Perique to tickle body and soul that slightly tingles the nose and goes to the heart. Everything is infused with a hint of citrus. Sandra’s blue sea has found a new home in a pipe. Have a good smoke.