One of the most exciting emerging talents in Italy, chef Valentino Cassanelli heads up the kitchen at Lux Lucis, a multi award-winning restaurant on the rooftop of the luxurious boutique hotel, Principe Forte dei Marmi, in Tuscany.
For the Michelin star dishes, the chef draws inspiration from life experiences as well as from the rich biodiversity surrounding the coastal town of Forte dei Marmi, a gem of Versilia, in this Italian region.
The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2017 and the following year the Best Dining Experience by Condé Nast Johanssens, while recently claiming the title of Pasta of the Year and four hats by Le Guide de L’Espresso 2020. A free expression of Italian cuisine, Cassanelli’s cooking style results in delicately balanced and elegant menus, taking the diner into a journey between land and sea.
The panoramic views offered by Principe, with the Apuan Alps eastwards and the Tyrrhenian Sea westwards, further enhance the experience, while the journey of flavours meets an exquisite pairing by sommelier Sokol Ndreko. The drinks selection, indeed, is conceived and offered as an ingredient complementing the food creation.
We talk with the chef about the beginning of his career, the relationship with the territory and the essential elements of his cuisine.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I have always wanted to be a chef. Ever since I was a young boy, I loved food and the gastronomic world. From helping my grandmother and mother make tortellini and lasagne, I began to appreciate the happiness you get from cooking for others, which is the main reason why I decided to become a chef.
What would you say is the key/winning feature of your cuisine?
I always describe my cuisine as a “free expression of Italian cuisine.”
What’s your signature dish?
Red mullet in scent of pine and sea; spaghetti with anchovies, burrata, umeboshi and caviar; and pigeon with litchi and octopus
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
My menu is like a concept album, it is telling a story about flavours. I work with my brigade on the expression of our territory and tradition, contaminated by our new and free approach, technique and new ingredients. In the end, we try to give amazing Italian taste in a very personal way.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Although I don’t have a favourite ingredient, I would answer this question with tomatoes, because they are a symbol of Italy. I love how they can be sweet, sour, delicate or intense. Despite being a common ingredient, tomatoes can be pretty difficult to use well.
How do you source the produce for your creations?
I have such an inquiring and curious spirit, that I taste all the things that are edible around me, and I pick the best producers and suppliers. I’m a travel lover, so I research many ingredients during my vacations or working trips.
How much connected are you with the territory, in addition to the dishes that are all about it?
My cuisine is a representation of my territory and I have to be an ambassador of it. I work in connection and with deep respect for it.
In the last few years, I have been focusing on developing good relationships with many people acting directly in our surroundings. For example, Fatti col Pennato is a small farmer, heroic agriculture of Versilia and the Apuan Alps, they are collaborating with the university of Pisa to maintain our biodiversity strong, through the production of ancient vegetables. Molino Angeli is planting ancient grains that originated from this territory and he makes super flours out of them. That is because we have to be aware of and learn to grow together with all the territory. You can definitely feel it in the final dishes.
Do you feel the location of the Lux Lucis, on the rooftop of boutique hotel Principe Forte dei Marmi, has influenced your style in a way and your approach to the cooking process?
My cuisine is all about free thinking, that’s my motto, but working in a wonderful five-star luxury hotel allows me to have international and gourmet guests. This situation strongly influences me, and it pushes me daily to become an improved version of myself.
How interconnected is your work with that of Maitre sommelier Sokol Ndreko?
Sokol and me have worked together since the Lux Lucis opening and we have the same idea of beverage pairing. It is not only about wine, the drink should be conceived as an ingredient, so it has to combine perfectly with the sensations of the dishes. Sokol is a great sommelier and a great man, we are good friends, so it is easy now to interconnect our jobs.
The restaurant won the special award Pasta of the Year by Le Guide de L’Espresso. What is the secret for a very special pasta dish?
Pasta is a simple but difficult dish. Everyone makes pasta at home, so it is key to be fast, constant and passionate. There is no secret, you should have the best ingredients, cook pasta right on point, add a pinch of acidity and it tastes rich in the mouth. I’m so Italian when I talk about pasta!
What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
I don’t really know, maybe…a chef?
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Brown well-cooked toast with roasted ham and melted cheese.
What would you like your guests to leave with, after experiencing Lux Lucis?
A unique and unforgettable experience of flavours.
When are you the happiest?
In a colourful local market on a relaxed sunny day with my family. Another situation when I am the happiest is while cooking on a busy day with my second family, my brigade at Lux Lucis.