As the car climbs up the winding hairpin bends that lead to the fairytale village of Champoluc, in the Aosta Valley, I think back to our first phone call. “I really like your project, it's brave. Your sustainable philosophy is interesting. Can you send me some samples? ”. After months of virtual exchanges imposed by the pandemic, we can finally meet. The emotion is strong, not only because Luca Gubelli - Executive Chef of campZero, Active Luxury Resort 5 stars in Champoluc, Valle d'Aosta - is a very good Chef, but also because he is among the first to have believed in the Boniviri project , one of the almost thirty small producers selected by him, personally, for the two restaurants of campZero: the " Cliffhanger's Grill ", the casual brasserie for hotel guests, and the " Summit Restaurant ", the gourmet restaurant, open only in the evening , where Luca, through truly unique sensory and emotional atmospheres and landscapes, leads enthusiasts of food and wine excursions to very high peaks.
“In administration they hate me,” he jokes. “I have four suppliers for cheese only”. Thus an avalanche of bills and invoices overwhelms the purchasing department on a daily basis. “Not to mention the logistical hassles that I have to deal with personally. But this makes the difference, it is what makes my cooking good and right. I get the blueberries from a lady in the village, she picks them up by hand and brings them to me fresh. I'm lucky, here at campZero I have carte blanche ”.
From Mozzate to Champoluc, I ask him what brought him up here after a career of over thirty years built with sacrifice in the most glamorous restaurants in Milan. “Nice, but I couldn't take it anymore, the daughters were grown up now, it was the right time”. And the right place… “Yes, my career began in '89 and in '93 I arrived in Aosta for the first time, to work with Chef Paolo Vai, two Michelin stars. I have always had this valley in my heart ”.
While we chat, the colleague brings us one of his fruit juices, apple and ginger. His whole idea of cooking is concentrated in that essential - and so good - juice. Simple ingredients, carefully selected and cooked with wisdom and creativity. “A concept of cuisine that may not be instagrammable (and indeed it is, look at the gallery) and particularly innovative (and of innovation, I assure you, if you perceive a lot of it), but it is authentic because it is mine. Here at campZero I reached my 'gastronomic maturity' with my 'Alpine Fusion' cooking concept ” . A perfect synthesis of cultures, cooking methods and ingredients that are extremely distant and different from each other. As he proudly guides me through the spaces of campZero, he feels that the personality of the restaurants is all his own. “I designed the kitchen, the systems, the equipment, the restaurant strategies, in short, I have sewn this place on me”.
We are interrupted by the lost voices of a couple of guests who entered through a back door rather than the main entrance. He a distinguished man, dressed entirely in designer labels, she a lady with a discreet charm reflected in her precious jewels. I ask Luca if sustainable cuisine is democratic, if it is not destined to remain a luxury for the few: “do you think everyone can buy a fifty thousand euro car? No, yet they make installments for ten years because they can't afford it, so for the three hundred euro shoes and the one thousand purse. Why the bag yes, the shoes yes and the food no? This is the question we must ask ourselves and then make coherent choices: eat less, eat better, to respect the work of small farmers, the planet and ourselves ”.
When it comes to sustainability, Luca does not compromise. “If I walk into the kitchen and see the tap running, I become a hyena. That way, I'll be dead already, I tell the kids, but you won't even have water to drink if you go on like this. Our task as Chef is also to educate on these issues, unfortunately not enough is done in schools ”. For him, sustainability is also knowledge of the territory, of the farmers and their products . Here, too, there is still a lot to do. “Cooks often come to me, even from important restaurants and multi-star hotels, who don't know how to clean fish, de-bone or recognize a cut of meat. Now the distributors bring the food already clean and ready to put in the oven. In your opinion, is this kitchen? ".
It is time for lunch, we move to the terrace overlooking the large park surrounding the hotel. "Luca, do you". Let's start with a selection of breads served with oil, Boniviri of course. Even though the restaurant is casual, guests don't want to give up their luxurious composure and, trying not to be noticed, dip their bread in oil like children have their noses in cotton candy at the Luna Park. They close their eyes gathered in a silent enjoyment and, having lost all restraint, away with another immersion. What a gratification! “Some customers ask me for a bottle before they leave. This oil is really good, they tell me ”. Here comes the beetroot marinated trout with oyster mayonnaise. An explosion of colors, flavors, emotions, which continues throughout lunch and never leaves me.
We close with a sweet bread lying on a bed of blueberries, amazing. It's time to go back to the valley, before saying goodbye I ask him what the kitchen of the future will be like. “Globalization is inevitable, we will only have vertical concepts. Pizza will survive and restaurants will disappear, except for those of the highest level, it is a very evident trend in young people that will consolidate more and more ".
Luca, is it worth it? “As long as at least one in ten understands my project, yes. Because we will have made our contribution to a healthy, good and fair cuisine . "While these words accompany me along the hairpin bends that take me back to the valley, I think that his cuisine, courageous and tenacious, is one of the best medicines of this time, ill of straight and clear roads, of easy solutions and compressed times, short views and narrow perspectives.
Photo credit: Artifact