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Food + Drink

The Chef’s Table: Karime Lopez, Of Gucci Osteria

Gucci Osteria joined the Florentine dining scene back in 2018. Launched in collaboration with the three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura, the eatery, which sits inside the whimsical store-cum-museum Gucci Garden in Palazzo della Signoria, is a truly delectable spot.

While Massimo Bottura’s name takes top billing on the menu, it’s Mexican chef Karime Lopez (official title: chef de cuisine of Gucci Osteria in Florence) who’s in charge of the kitchen. Cooking up contemporary Italian cuisine at the intimate 45-seat restaurant, Lopez’s dishes are a feast for the senses. The palate-teasing plates (presented on custom-made Ginori porcelain, decorated in the fashion house’s sweet floral Herbarium design) are lip-smackingly good.

Having worked internationally – from Copenhagen to Tokyo and further afield – Lopez asserts that “Travelling and working in different countries has allowed me to gather flavours and discover new sensory experiences that have refined my cooking style.”

Here, Lopez shares her favourite food memories from childhood, her go-to meal when she’s short on time, and explores the idea of cooking as therapy.


How did you first get into cooking?

In the beginning, I wanted to work in visual arts; I moved to Paris for one year in the Rive Gauche and studied French because I wanted to attend the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts. I did some sculpting and painting at the school, but it was during my time in France that I discovered my real passion: cooking.

In my teen days, growing up in Mexico was like living in a desert, dessert-wise: there were no lovely pastries like now there are with many beautiful pastry shops. So, when arriving in Paris, the first thing that struck me was French pastry shops’ overwhelming beauty. I had a revelation; this is like art, I said to myself!  From then on, I realised: that’s what I want to do. I spent one year in Paris and then moved to a culinary school in Sevilla; it was easier for me in Spain because of the language. After lots of thinking, my mum wisely said to me: “If you think about it, at the end of the day cooking is also related to art, so why not? But first thing first before you make any decision, find yourself a school that suits you and that can support you.” Maybe when I grow old, in my retirement days, I will go back to sculpture and fill my house with plenty of handmade ceramics; that would be my debut collection!

What are some of your childhood food memories?

My father’s family have a few restaurants, so I have been surrounded by food since I was a child. These restaurants make food from the Yucatan region, so the flavours are particular to this area of Mexico.

Other childhood memories include fresh corn tortillas and a black bean soup with shredded roasted turkey that my mother cooked for me when I was growing up. Christmas meals in Mexico with my family were always special too, because of all the love that went into them, I have many good memories linked to those special festive moments.

Who most influenced your cooking?

I think we have many mentors in life, and for me, it started with my family. Then when it comes to techniques and professional education, Santi Santamaria was my first mentor. He was the first person to give me a job opportunity. I learnt a lot when I joined his restaurant in 2005 – we were understaffed and ran the kitchen with just ten chefs, his style of cuisine is very detail orientated, so there was lots of intricate work.

Enrique Olvera from the restaurant Pujol in Mexico City was also a significant influence. I learnt that cooking in a kitchen is more than just heavy-duty work; it can also be a pleasure and fun source. Next, Seiji Yamamoto, a Japanese chef at the restaurant Nihonryori RyuGin showed me how deep a food concept could be and how crucial respect for the product is.

Of course, I can’t forget Massimo Bottura; I owe him everything. I am now at the helm of Gucci Osteria in Florence because Massimo believed in me. He taught me, among many other things, the utter importance of building a solid team you can rely on.

The food that makes you happiest and why?

Tacos make me super happy; they are such delicious comfort food. I also always love good cheese.

Favourite cooking gadget?

A sharp knife, for me it’s indispensable in the kitchen.

Favourite cookbook?

I have so many favourites, but I would like to highlight Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky. The book is not full of recipes but exciting food stories.

What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?

Cheese. All my friend’s joke because my fridge at home is always half empty apart from cheese. My top five are: comté, appenzeller, parmigiano reggiano, and, last but not least, some top-quality gorgonzola piccante. I also love fresh cheese like queso fresco and quesillo – I’m a cheese lover!

Where are the best places to shop for produce in Florence?

The San Lorenzo Market, the indoor market ‘Mercato Centrale’, has a great variety of produce and excellent quality.

How does travel influence your cooking?

Travelling and working in different countries has allowed me to gather flavours and discover new sensory experiences that have refined my cooking style. This inspires our menu at Gucci Osteria in Florence; we use Italian ingredients and techniques learnt in other parts of the world to create multi-layered dishes.

I also think that the experience of working all around the world enables you to be more open-minded; you adapt better and are more flexible with different ideas, flavours, and ways to approach other cultures. It has helped me better understand my team, our guests, and what direction we want to take the restaurant.

 Must-visit food cities include…

Mexico City, Merida, Tokyo, Osaka, San Sebastian, and so many I would like to list, but these are my top favourites.

How do your surrounds influence your dining/ cooking experience?

The surroundings are significant – we live in a beautiful and inspiring environment: Gucci Garden, located in the Renaissance Palazzo della Mercanzia in Piazza della Signoria, and one of the most incredible cities in the world, Florence. This allows us to be constantly stimulated by some of the finest forms of art, which, eventually, are becoming part of us, part of the way we think, the way we dream, even if we are not conscious about it yet. Gucci Osteria’s menu guides our guests into a journey without leaving the table. We have the incredible opportunity to use excellent local products and to process them with the best possible techniques.

What are your thoughts on ambience and eating?

It is essential and sometimes underestimated. I am convinced that the ambience has a necessary influence on eating behaviour, and part of the experience is always tied to service.

Where are your favourite places to dine in Florence?

Trattoria Sostanza, it’s a very traditional but not super fancy restaurant serving delicious Tuscan flavours, and I always feel at home there.

What do you always avoid ordering on a menu?

To be honest, nothing, I like everything.

By contrast, must-order items on the menu at Gucci Osteria include…

The Purple Corn Tostada is one of our signature dishes in Florence; it represents my country Mexico. The dish is marinated bonito with purple corn tostada, a hint of spice and citrus. There are so many more to mention – the Tortellini with Parmigiano Reggiano Cream is a favourite; it’s on the menu in Florence and Gucci Osteria Beverly Hills, which opened last year. Other dishes to recommend include, The Chianina’s Kiss with chianina tongue and glazed pumpkin and Sea Deepness with ditalini and squid broth.

Why do you think it’s important to gather round the table to eat?

I grew up in a country where we give a lot of importance and respect to sharing the table. It is an act of sharing love, stories, and creating memories that you will keep forever. Gathering around the table is a place and time where you can discover more of who you are eating with; it’s special.

What is your go-to meal at home when you’re low on time?

Dumplings and pizza.

Do you find cooking therapeutic?

I have been through some difficult moments, but cooking saved me. When I’m at work, I am so focused on what I’m doing, I can forget about everything outside the kitchen. So for me, it is therapeutic.

Advice for women thinking about working in the food or restaurant industry?

To work hard and be persistent, there will be hard times, but this is a beautiful job that can give you a lot of personal satisfaction.

Finally, please share a recipe you love with our readers…

The Quail Sound

INGREDIENTS:

1 boneless quail (1 portion)

INGREDIENTS FOR THE FILLING:

100 g sausage
15g lard
50g  bread
20g milk
20g onion

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SIDE:

2 potatoes
30g scamorza
Milk to taste
½ bunch of spring onion
Salt to taste
Parmesan to taste
Hazelnut butter to taste
Leaves of Mizuna n.2
Black truffle to taste (only during truffle season)

INGREDIENTS FOR THE QUAIL BASE:

1 kg quail bones (chicken)
Celery, carrots, onion, 100g for each vegetable
6l water
100g grape juice

COOKING:

Vacuum pre-cook the quail stuffed with lard at 65° for 30 minutes.
Final cooking: fried at 170° for about 5/7min.

METHOD FOR THE FILLING:

Brown the onion and set aside once cooked.

Cook 70g of sausage and leave at room temperature once cooked. Toast 30g of bread in a pan. Leave the remaining bread to soak in the milk. Then blend the sausage with 10g of lard and all the bread. At the end, incorporate the onion we cooked at the beginning. Blend in the Thermomix until you get a uniform mixture.

METHOD FOR THE QUAIL BASE:

Toast the carcasses in the oven at 180° for 30 min. Meanwhile, brown the vegetables in a saucepan with very little oil.

Once the carcasses are toasted, drain the fat thoroughly and add them to the vegetables in the saucepan. Add ice and water and reduce over medium/low heat. After about 5 hours, filter the bottom.

Let the base reduce until it becomes smooth and almost dense in consistency. Apart, reduce the grape juice over medium heat until it becomes thick. Add the reduced grape juice to the quail base and filter.

METHOD FOR THE SIDE

Cook the potatoes in water (starting with cold water).

Once cooked, peel the potatoes and mash them through a sieve. Add milk, hazelnut butter, salt, chives, and diced scamorza cheese. All the ingredients must be combined together once the potato is at room temperature. Put the purée in a sac a poche with a striped nozzle.

PLATING

Cook by immersing the quail in a pot with seed oil (170 ° x 5/7 min.) (it must be covered with oil). Once cooked, cut the quail in half and place the mizuna leaves in the middle. In a small bowl, make a dome with the mashed potatoes, sprinkle the tip with polenta and grated parmesan (with a flame, burn the tip to caramelize the polenta and parmesan). At the end, add two flakes of black truffle over the purée.

Aside, serve the quail base.

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