Mattia Agazzi is bringing the breadth of his cooking experience into the new context of California and Los Angeles. For a chef that is ingredient-led and whose Italian background provides a foundation for creativity, LA and Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Beverly Hills are a natural home for Mattia and his approach to food and dining.
Growing up in Bergamo in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy gave Mattia a landscape to explore. Close to mountain ranges and deep countryside, Lombardy is a region that has four distinct seasons offering an incredible range of produce, and roots for personal inspiration.
Growing up eating and cooking traditional food from his native region, such as polenta and a ravioli made without eggs and historically, with sausages, apple and pear, the family dining table was more than just a place to gather.
“Before we ate, we always waited for everyone to be seated at the communal table, which feels very traditional for an Italian way of eating. It is this gathering of the whole family – and some households also have their grandparents living under the same roof too – that I think has made our food so famously convivial; the tradition to celebrate food altogether daily,” Mattia explains. As well as witnessing the way tradition has been an anchor of Italian food, Mattia has also noticed how palates evolve, and dishes adapt. Tradition does not need to stand still; it is its duty to adapt, evolve, improve slowly, and face the coming day after day. It is this balance of multiple approaches to food that Mattia fully embraces in his professional life.
Cooking interested Mattia from a young age; at 11 years old, he requested a small electric oven for Christmas, where he cooked eggs, made small cakes and various other dishes. At the age of 16, following a cycling accident, he focused more seriously on the kitchen and cooking – where he could still be busy but could also navigate whilst on crutches.
At school, he had an incredibly inspiring teacher who taught him how to appreciate the local produce. Seeing talent in the young Mattia, his mentor helped him get a job at three-Michelin-starred Da Vittorio, where he stayed for four years under chef Enrico Cerea.
From there, Mattia travelled and worked all over the world for seven years – including Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenée in Paris, and vegetarian restaurant Yellow Restaurant, in Sydney, where Mattia was introduced to fermentation and all the creative spectrum that vegetables offer.
Mattia’s first link with Gucci Osteria started at another ‘osteria’, more precisely at world-famous three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena. Bottura was impressed by his raw talent, perseverance and capacity to be open-minded while approaching new cooking styles. So much so that he asked Mattia to continue his culinary education and follow, with his blessing, Karime Lopez to Florence as her sous chef, to establish the Gucci Osteria that was still in its infancy.
Mattia worked in Florence for a year and a half in a relentlessly electric and creative culinary frenzy whose apex was the obtention of a well deserved first Michelin star. “It was true teamwork and such an amazing time for us all”, Mattia acknowledges. “Massimo Bottura, Karime Lopez and the whole Gucci house were -and are!- such a great support”. Massimo Bottura and Karime Lopez were the first to see the enormous potential in Mattia to lead a restaurant independently. Therefore, it was a natural decision for them to offer him the position of head chef at the newly-opened Gucci Osteria Beverly Hills.
We caught up with Mattia to hear all about how his family roots inspired him so much, his love for the next exciting ingredient and how peaches make him happy!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
I come from Bergamo, a town still heavily based on many traditions regarding food production, such as fishing, foraging, agriculture, and natural farming. For my dishes, I take inspiration from these practices. Also, I love animals, nature and the mountains, to the point that my favourite hobby is rock climbing. Inevitably, so, when I was offered to come to Beverly Hills, I couldn’t wait to bring all these traditions and passions to America with me.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Since I was a child, I grew up in my grandparents’ house like most Italian families. I remember that, when my grandfather returned home from fishing or hunting, my grandmother would start preparing dinner for the whole house with what he just brought back. And it was for twelve people, so, not much of an intimate dinner, rather a real party. I grew up in an environment where food has always been a big part of my life and where family time also meant time spent around the table. Some meals could take even three days of preparation! And my grandmother would have always been there, in the kitchen, to get all these delicacies ready.
Who has been your biggest influence to get you to where you are today?
I grew up in a very humble family, and I never had a real mentor. I could say, though, that I have strongly felt my parents, who have always worked hard all day long, giving me a clear example. So, I simply try to develop my idea of cooking, letting personal experiences and travels influence me.
What’s your signature dish?
The region I come from in Italy, Lombardy, is the one that gave birth to the art of risotto. ‘Risotto camouflaged as pizza’ is a dish that brings together two very recognisable Italian flavours, pizza and risotto. I called it in this way because it tastes more like pizza than pizza itself and because it is a reference to Massimo Bottura, who joked with me: ‘Come on Mattia, get ready – quick! – we’re going to Beverly Hills to open a pizzeria!’. Obviously, keeping me in the dark – it was anything but a pizzeria! It turned out to be Gucci Osteria that we were going to open. It’s a signature dish, one of the most fun and interesting ones, if not only for the story behind it.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Seasonality and fun. I believe that you can eat well pretty much everywhere in the world today, and particularly here in Los Angeles, where food culture is highly considered. When it comes to conveying our emotions to the guests, expressing the fun element risks being the biggest challenge. But it also turns out to be the greatest satisfaction when successfully achieved. We hope to make our guests understand that you can indeed travel anywhere in the world with food. All you need is just a pinch of imagination and to let the child inside us take over and enjoy the emotional aspect of the tasty journey we propose.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
I would say that the main sources of inspiration are my Italian roots and the new Californian surroundings, as well as by nature and the music I listen to. To give you an example, the dish ‘Coming from the Hills I Love Rock Climbing’ (local white trout, hazelnuts and mushrooms) is inspired by my love of rock climbing. California is incredible for rock climbing with its stunning landscapes. And, as already mentioned, the memories related to my grandfather and Bergamo and my new experiences here, come together for dish development, so the menu is always very personal and unique.
How would you describe your cooking style?
Contemporary Italian cuisine, entwined with Californian energy.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
Every season has its magic, but the first peaches of the year really excite me.
What is your favourite ingredient to create with?
It’s the ingredient I’ll discover tomorrow. For example, when I tasted the trout from the local producers from all over California, it was a magic moment, and that became my favourite ingredient. But then we also found the raw, unpasteurized milk or the Santa Barbara pistachios. They are all valuable discoveries that it is difficult not to elect as my new favourite. There are so many good ingredients, known and unknown, that I’d say my favourite one is the one I’ll find tomorrow.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I am pretty undecided, to be honest, but if I had not pursued my cycling career, I would indeed have found a place in the wild, among animals, immersed in nature, as a shepherd or maybe a dairyman. But, who knows, one day.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
I don’t have one in particular. However, though busy as I am today, I still manage to come back home with a fresh catch of the day or some wild herbs to cook.
When are you happiest?
Entering the kitchen in the morning and seeing my team enjoying their time there. I think Vanessa and Tamara, smiling in the kitchen, are my biggest motivation at the moment.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
In the wild, especially on the mountains, hanging from a wall.
What do your future plans entail?
New dishes for the new menu! I am continually inspired by the community, the place, my passions: my mind and my heart are in a continuous creative state.
How have the lockdown restrictions affected your work?
Given that we had to close our doors twice, it’s been like a new start every time: it has been like opening three times in one year. Every time we got back, we had new ideas, a positive approach, and fresh inspirations to include in the menu. In terms of service, we have organised a to-go menu that could be enjoyed at home, which included dishes like tortellini and potato pie. We studied what could be prepared as takeaways from our menus, and, of course, we paid attention to using only eco-friendly packaging.
Also, no one could predict what happened, but being with this fantastic team, with Gucci Osteria, it meant for us also to be able to continue the idea that we can help – practically – through what we are good at, through our job. So much so, during all the lockdowns, Christmas and New Year included, in collaboration with Hollywood Food Coalition, we have served meals to the people in need. All the team has participated in the initiative. I have been involved in similar projects before, as it’s a cause close to my heart, but here, I felt it even more, and I felt a shared value.
Now that we have reopened, we are running our services with all the due safety measures. It feels great to be back and the guests are enjoying being in the restaurant again.