On behalf of Les Nouveaux Riches, I got a chance to have an exchange with Rottigni about art, candies, childhood reminiscences, signature acts, architecture, and episodes inspired by mundane situations such as reading a quote in an NYC subway toilet: „I APOLOGIZE WITH MY MOTHER FOR WHAT I’VE DONE“, which years later was the genesis of a desert dinning course, which eventually led to Gummibärchen filled with alcohol.
Can you tell us something about your time at the New Academy of Fine Arts, and then deciding to pursue a career as a chef?
I always had artistic tendencies since I was a kid. I was drawing like crazy. I’ve graduated in high school as “media specialist” and after I’ve started to study as Art Director in NABA Milano for 1 year. I’ve always been very creative, but I wasn’t sure that working in an agency would have been my path. So, I’ve decided to become a chef, that in the start wasn’t directly connected to it, but creative fine dining was something very attractive to me.
During the last decade you have been working as Head Pastry Chef in historic and luxurious hotels, restaurants, and chateaus. Is architecture having an impact in your work?
Well, architecture for me it’s fundamental. In my philosophy, everything you do, needs a context. Always. You always need to know where you physically are and which your sensorial perceptions are. That’s the reason why I’ve created my bar as a white paper. Lot’s of white inside, because I want freedom. Some elegant and minimalistic details are inside, but I want the place to be full of experience and imagination. That’s the real whole architecture I need.
How long did it take from the concept development phase to the realization of your DESSERT BAR MILANO? How did the name emerge, and was it difficult to find one?
Being honest, the thought of my bar has been a growing of different things. I’ve started with an idea, and changed it during the realization. I’ve shaped it on me and on my guests. I understood what I wanted to do for real and what my guests expected to live. And I guess, it will always change, like me. Solid base, but always a white paper. About the name, we have been working a bit. The name is always a difficult topic. But still, we decided for something very clean, simple to understand and to remember. My place is a bar, where we try to work to dilate the concept of dessert, removing the barrier of the two bad enemies: fat and sweetness.
Names seem to be important in your work. While I was looking at different creations of yours, the name of a dessert called Norwegian Forest stuck in my head. The name is in a way an indication of a place where you used to live and work. What will you always carry with you from that time?
Norway is an important country in my life; I’d say a key country. And it left much to me, including a special person. Norway has been my real first life experience abroad. It opened my mind and made me a different person. The celebration of it with my signature act “Norwegian Forest” is surely for this. The magic of “norwegian forests” is something you can understand just if you have tried at least once. I’ve always been a very stressed and anxious guy (typical milanese); the calming effect that Norway had on me has been magic. Norway is far, but not so far. With its own cultural rules and its countersenses.
How important are ingredients for chefs? What informations do they reveal?
Chefs should have a huge intimate connection with ingredients. I don’t use ingredients if I don’t feel intimately attracted to them. I also use lots ingredients that I don’t like as flavor; we work for others, not for ourselves. A good chef must work with all kind of ingredients, even if he doesn’t like them. Taste is connected to my memory and to my soul; if I’m not able to make feel this connection to my guest, I’m not doing a good job.
You talk about a dessert state of mind. Can you elaborate?
I want to change the dessert perception in the world. When we think about dessert, first thing we get is SWEET. But my question is: are we sure about it? Who decided that dessert should be sweet? Dessert is a compressed moment of happiness. It’s the paradigm of childhood. It’s the moment of pleasure. But if we think that 90% of pleasure perception is controlled by the brain, why should I pass just thru the stomach? Ain’t it reductive? People wants more. I want more. I serve emotions and nostalgia for dessert”- that’s my dogma. When I create something, I want to give you more. I want to use all the 5 senses you got (at least 4). I need to be sure that your mind is gonna work as I’ve decided to. Sugar and fat have been the hardest handcuffs around desserts possibility in history of world and fine dining, and lots of pastry chefs didn’t get it yet. We don’t need to be last, after a cook masterpiece. We can make our own masterpiece, but going against what is imposed by culture and expectation (high glycemia makes you feel bad after 30min ca., and this is science. Not an opinion). With the technique I get sure to have a low level of fatness and sweetness (body feels that), and with my creativity and imagination I build a whole mood around it. I want to bring you somewhere, I don’t want you to eat a “sweet”. I want emotions, to become a fundamental part of the dessert, and I want you to go out shaken.
You thematize the role of a changed contemporary host, how can we imagine this figure?
Italian restaurant or shop host is an institution. Italians have lots of defects, but we are good hosts and storyteller; I’ve been traveling, but nothing to say on the unique energy that Italians can give you when they welcome you in their space. From the culture of “osteria”, where the hosts would keep a towel on his shoulder and would serve you house wine telling you his best joke or compliment. I think this key is the future; it’s what makes an experience special. The human connection. ain’t old at all; from my point of view it’s the real avanguardia of hospitality 4.0. World is getting emotionally colder and colder, and people needs always more love and attention, considering their growing state of loneliness. And that’s what we try to do at Dessert Bar Milano.
Any Hosts that inspired your work?
The first host that still inspire me is a friend of mine called Luca. His the owner of a very simple and home traditional pizzeria situated in the street where I live. He knows everyone and he’s all over the place. First People loves him, then their pizza and after that, the place. The human connection is strong, loud (typically Italian) and familiar. And people love it. Years ago I’ve brought there two Norwegian friends of mine. He has been speaking with them in Italian (not considering that they were not understanding) and in the end offered them the whole lunch – “I feel like this today, you are new, now go as I’m busy as hell”. They were shocked, but they will remember this forever. This means, to me, to be a host.
You give the impression that you do not like the ordinary. Your bar is even unavailable by phone, at least that’s what I’ve heard. Why?
My bar can be reached by phone, but not for reservations (you need to book on the website). There are some rules like the opening of the door within 20 minutes and more.
Having everything and immediately gives us the perception of happiness, but I’ve realized that is actually the opposite. Having everything and immediately is driving us towards chronic unhappiness.
I give you some limits and I make the journey to arrive to me more difficult; the sensation of satisfaction in the end (after you came to me) would be 10 times more intense.
There are only a few photos online of your creations, even when finding one, it look more like pictures that appear from memories. The arrangement in which you present the recipe Crostata Apparente for example. The interplay of elements is reminiscent of Italian households – heavy wooden credenzas, teacups that are probably rarely used, small sculptures, and a homemade dessert (which is probably never missing). Why you chose to present your creations in this light?
APPARENT TART (or Crostata Apparente in italian) is one of the moments that composes INSOMNIA. I didn’t’ want to show the dish, because it would have been reductive. I wanted to show what was in my mind. APPARENT TART is my synthetic version of the memory of my grandma’s cake (crostata is an Italian typical tart with jam on it).
Creating the memory, doesn’t mean to create the tart flavor. I wanted something evanescent; something comfort but violent, like something ain’t there anymore. And for this I’ve created an edible foam that has the flavour of the “crostata” of my grandma, but that disappear once it touches your tongue, leaving no sensation of fat, but watery. Just like a memory.
The situation you see in the picture is the situation I imagine. Old and heavy Italian furniture, crumbs on the table, imperfection of perfection, and something that is there, but is already disappearing. For the rest, well, you need to come and try at the counter.
The Insomnia Show – An unexpected tasting journey? Where is this taking place?
Insomnia show happens in the same place. It is inside of the Dessert Bar Milano. Indeed I’ve tried to adapt the show to the place. Locations in Milan are a huge and difficult topic. I’ve decided so, for a small place; just 11 seats at the counter, very hidden and exclusive. Only for the less distracted eyes. Counter was designed by me and the architect, and the rest of the volumes by the architect. On that we adapted with some lights system and immersive audio system. We use a high quality audio directional system pointing straight on the heads of guests. The whole sound engineering of the room has been followed by Livio Magnini, a musician of international circulation. He told me the story when, working in NYC in the studio with the producer of Prince, he asked him “Don’t you think this may be enough?” – and the producer answer was “If for you it’s ok Livio, put more. When you think something is ok, remember that you’re educated in this. PEOPLE WANT MORE”. This story was enough to convince me about the importance of immersiveness of audio, and how important is to give MORE to people.
There is even a short movie about the Insomnia show, whats the Story?
One morning I woke up with this idea: “We should try to treat our gastronomic experience like a movie”. And so we did it. With a trailer. I’ve been working on it with Giulia Achenza, that is a young fashion film and cinema director, and Alessandro My that is a digital strategist. To be honest the very first idea came also from my father (that is also my partner and associate to the project); we thought about this party in a rich and old house in the historic center of Italian city. The girl decides to go to the restroom to fix herself, and while she’s going to fix her lipstick, she decides to bite it. From there a trip starts, showing in a confusing way, some of the hidden clues that you’ll understand just when you arrive at the counter with me. A story, to start a menu, that is preparing you to be a part of that story. For me this is freaking cool! My idea started from: “Do you know that discomfort you feel when you speak to someone with teeth dirty of lipstick? You don’t know if to tell her or to just shut up.” – Well, I wanted to exaggerate that discomfort. I love it.
In your new concept you decided to prohibit taking photos during the dinning experience. Why you opt for such a thing?
I like to be against the tendencies, but for real. I come from social media, and 3⁄4 of my personal image come from there, but I think we went too far. Stop. World is losing the connection with reality and with human contact. So I wanted to do something very strong and rebel. But for real. Wearing lipstick (I’ve done for some of my pics) ain’t so nonconformist anymore, everyone does it. David Bowie was it at the time. So I decided, not pictures and video in my bar. This is for me real nonconformism. Try to say this in 2021, people freaks out, but in the end, they thanks us. Because we got them free. When you enter in my bar, my guys are gonna cover the camera of your phone with a sticker that says “Right here, Right now. SOCIAL MEDIA FREE AREA”. Well, this for me, in 2021 is strong af. When I opened I’ve found myself in speaking in front of 11 phone cameras, between me and my guests. I do it to protect them, to force them to enjoy the moment, and to protect people that hasn’t been there, to have the same surprise that the others had. I decide what goes out and what stays in. Communication is important, but I want to do something unique and in line with our philosophy. A bit of anxiety and disorientation in the start is an important part of my fine dining experience.
You ensure beauty on revealing something little by little. Can you elaborate on the why-s?
Human beings are animals. I use the same logic of flirting. Why flirting with another person takes us in that way? Because there is something coming that we don’t know. That feeling is closer to fear than what a lot of people think about. In life we fear what we don’t know. A dark room is scary and attractive. I think that, if you’re able to go and sit in the half of opposite feelings, you win. When guests sits in front of us, in the end, we are kind of flirting with them.
From where do you take your inspiration?
I smile because this is a question I’ve always had difficulties to answer. I just don’t know. I get inspirations from anything around me. I’m 24h sensorially and emotionally activated. I’ll die young of heart attack I guess (smiles). Something I can share with you is that, my best moments of creativity are, when I’m upset or sad. I always had a special relation with chronic unhappiness and inside shadow (but I’ve learned and still learning to manage it), I can tell you that there, yes – There I create well.
Dining in the age of social distancing. How does it work? What has changed in our life since the outbreak of the pandemic?
Very bad in my point of view. I truly believe in human connection (that we are losing day by day). I will always fight for people to stay together and don’t get split. And I will always do it, with my small possibilities, in my small reality. What I truly believe on it’s the quite opposite of social distancing. And unfortunately I think that social distance will be the new dogma of the future, socially dividing the richer to the poorer. The real social distance.
What do you think about loneliness?
Loneliness it’s a huge topic for me. I personally struggle in life about this topic in general (I handle very badly loneliness), but still I’d love a place where I know I can go alone and meet someone new. As well just for a chat. Well, I’d love one day to try to push my customers to come alone. Perception of things in life are different when we are or we aren’t alone. I’d love to work on it. If you come alone, I know that the relation between my gastronomic performance and your soul would be more direct and less filtered.
How does a day of you Rottigni looks?
I don’t have a real “day path”. Something I can tell you is that I’m a night person. In the night I feel better. Obviously I need to live also the day but, I’m not an early morning person; quite the opposite indeed. I can tell you that I feel a special connection with the night, and the best ideas I get in the night. I’m a very artistic person and I like everything connected to art, beauty, etc. Music is for sure a huge part of my life (I’ve studied music and guitar for 7 years when I was a kid). I like to study lots of different things; I have a very good memory capability if I listen, but not if I read. I think to be a bit dyslexic. My brain is a storage of informations of any kind. I like to wear, and usually my daily outfit reflects how I feel inside. The only path that I keep is my long coffee mug as first thing when I wake up, that I’ve learned in Norway and US. I tell you because Italians drink just espresso, and I may be defined shameful for this (smiles).
Milano, what is the significance of this city for you and how was it to return again here?
As every real Milanese I think that Milano shall be the capital of the country (smiles). Anyway, after EXPO 2015 Milano started a long run as European economic capital and so on, that for my point of view was crashing with Covid. I had great expectations from my city; some of them have been satisfied, some not. I hope we will be able soon to host hundred of thousands of tourists, that together with milanesi, were making this place very special. I love Milano, but I’d be a liar to not admit that I’d love to export abroad my idea and my concept of dessert, in other parts of Europe, Asia and USA.
Last question, but also very important. I have seen on the website an installation on your bar, where there is written: „ I APOLOGIZE WITH MY MOTHER FOR WHAT I’VE DONE “. What would you like to tell us about this phrase?
TIPSY BEARS ain’t an installation but was a course of the old menu. I don’t have it anywhere and is not something you can find today. Keep attention because this is not part of Insomnia. I don’t have “official pictures” about it, but the ones you can find are on bar’s google page. I APOLOGIZE WITH MY MOTHER FOR WHAT I’VE DONE was just a provocation. Mother/childhood/gummy bears/alcohol/toilet. I just like the absurd of the situation.