Ristorante Berton. Born under a lucky star.
He is originally from Friuli and is 52 years old, 25 of which he spent in the kitchen. Chef Andrea Berton started out as an apprentice of none other than cooking legend Gualtiero Marchesi, growing and refining his art at the world’s best restaurants (such as Mosimann’s of London, Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, and the Louis XV of MonteCarlo, led by Alain Ducasse) until he found a home at the Trussardi Scala (awarded 2 Michelin stars in a row, as well as 3 Gambero Rosso forks and “3 hats” by l’Espresso guide). ‘I went by the Porta Nuova Varesine construction site every day and thought: that’s where my restaurant will be’. His dream came true: today Chef Berton is the owner of the homonymous restaurant at Portanuova. Had he perhaps also predicted the Michelin star he would earn a few years later?
PN: They say that you offer modern dishes leveraging on basic ingredients and promoting lesser-known ones. In short, what is your cuisine like?
A.B.: My idea of food involves straightforward recipes with unusual ingredients, such as tapioca or roots, that were once not promoted but are now growingly in fashion. That’s my setup.
PN: How was your passion for cooking born?
A.B.: I love eating ever since I was a child, and when I was about 10 or 12 and my father took me to restaurants, I loved to stop in front of the kitchen doors to peep inside, as if to steal a few secrets. I was fascinated by the frenzy of that world hidden from the sight of the diners. I think it was those “pop visits” to the kitchens that made something click.
PN: What is a flavour you carry in your heart since then?
A.B.: Bread. Especially its scent, which reminds me of when I stopped by a bakery with the backdoor open (there’s the recurring theme of the door again…) as I walked to school. That adorable, unmistakable and comforting perfume could be smelled all along the street and still represents cuisine for me today.
PN: What is your favourite kind of bread? Complex or simple?
A.B.: I like bread made with passion and with the right flours.
PN: How did you earn your star? Was it something you chased after or did it simply appear?
A.B.: The main reason why we work is to satisfy our clients; recognitions are good but are a mere consequence: a gratification for the team and a push to improve even more. The star is only a starting point to raise the bar, not a finish line.
PN: The setting of your restaurant is defined: ‘sophisticated and contemporary, in line with the district’s architecture’. Did you adjust the restaurant to the district or was the Portanuova style already suited to you?
A.B.: I believe the latter is true. In fact, when I worked at Trussardi, I went by the Porta Nuova Varesine construction site every day and thought: that’s where my restaurant will be. I saw the district grow. I wanted to make a restaurant somewhere that was still no man’s land to write my story from scratch. Indeed, my restaurant was not only the first business in the area, but the first of anything, since the district was uninhabited other than in Piazza Gae Aulenti. I truly started as a lone wolf.
PN: The promise of ‘a cuisine where flavours are always well-distinguished on the palate’ is very convincing. In fact, cuisines full of ‘contaminations’ often mask the flavours that they should, instead, underline...
A.B.: That pretty much sums up my cooking philosophy: tastes need to be clear to create a ‘distinguishable’ pleasure. I always design and develop dishes with this logic in mind.
PN: Do you ever go to the market?
A.B.: The market is a place you need to experience, visit, and get to know. This process requires time and consistency. Nevertheless, I have my network of high-quality suppliers, and I still take a walk around the market once in a while: it’s relaxing and inspiring.
PN: When people think Berton, they think about ‘the soup elevated to a proper recipe’…
A.B.: When I opened my restaurant, I strongly wanted to offer a soup menu, because it had been considered a secondary dish until that time. In my mind, today it is a main dish to serve at the table or a side dish to serve hot or even cold. It’s much more than comfort food for the winter: it is an ingredient that enriches the menu. I also make chocolate soup. Some chefs make fried soup, with a crunchy outer layer to play around with the different textures. In Italy, we are too attached to tradition and afraid of innovation and changes despite our distinctive creativity.
PN: What was the experience as an EXPO 2015 Ambassador like?
A.B.: It was a great adventure: I was part of a system that truly promoted our nation and Milan, as well as the food industry as a whole.
PN: Are you strict in the kitchen? Are you communicative or rather quiet/focused?
A.B.: I am composed, and I focus on the clients’ expectations above all, but of course there are moments when I take the edge off the stress with the crew.
PN: If the crew skips a dish, how do you justify this at the table?
A.B.: That seldom happens: our organization makes it impossible. But in case of accident, we make up for the delay by offering extras or improvising with some alternative solutions.
PN: Do you also train future gourmet chefs?
A.B.: I sometimes make appearances at alberghieri (Italian hotel training institutes), but training is a cornerstone of my job: we practise it at my restaurant every day.
PN: Do you have a standard customer?
A.B.: 60% Italian and 40% foreign, of any kind, palate and extraction.
PN: You carved out a table for two in your kitchen. How does it work?
A.B.: Anyone can book it and it allows you to directly experience the “taste” of our job while enjoying an à la carte menu created by myself.
PN: You have 3 menus. What is the “Portanuova” Menu like?
A.B.: It includes various beef, fish, and poultry dishes, all complex and quite “inclusive”, suiting a wide range of customers.
PN: Do you spend time at Portanuova even off-work?
A.B.: That’s unlikely, because I’m in the kitchen from 9 a.m. to past midnight. But I still adore it; I love to walk around and admire it.
PN: Are you responsive to environmental sustainability issues? If so, how do you play your part?
A.B.: Everywhere we’ve worked, we have always had great attention to waste reduction, selection of possibly local ingredients, and sustainability in every form. For instance, we have an air change system that is well above the standard, tall ergonomic work surfaces, and many other details to protect people and the environment. I consider all of this sustainability, along with anything from energy-saving lights to new modes of transport.
PN: Any off-the-menu dish today?
A.B.: Rather than “off-the-menu” dishes, we test new dishes – that we don’t offer to our clients – every day. Yesterday evening, for example, we created a dish of passatelli made with pea-peel flour. Another door opening beyond “the same old soup”.
Ristorante Berton is at 13 Via Mike Bongiorno