Davide Oldani - better on the court with Federer than in the kitchen with Ramsay

He has worked in the kitchens of great chefs like Gualtiero Marchesi, Albert Roux, Alain Ducasse and Pierre Hermé. In 2003, the young chef Davide Oldani opened his restaurant, D'O, in Cornaredo, in the outskirts of Milan, his home city. Not even a year passed and the most authoritative gastronomic guides placed him among the great chefs of Italian cuisine and his career has been marked by many medals ever since.
Today he is 51 years old and has written countless books including Cuoco andata e ritorno, La mia cucina pop, Il giusto e il gusto, Storie di sport e cucina and the last one in 2016, D'O Eat better. In November 2013, he was even invited to Harvard University to talk about his entrepreneurial experience and in 2015 he was appointed as EXPO 2015 Ambassador. Then, the same year, he was called to participate as a speaker at the World Business Forum in Milan (and was applauded by former U.S. President Barack Obama). In 2016, he has opened a restaurant in Manila, another one in Singapore, and launched his new D'O, an evolution of the previous one, to create a "greater" cuisine, able to compare with other cuisines in Italy and abroad. In the summer of the same year, CONI appointed him as Food & Sport Ambassador and as chef to Casa Italia for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
He also has a busy designer role, which started from the daily observation of his guests. He has created tables, chairs, plates, cutlery and glasses in keeping with his philosophy. Recently, together with tennis champion Roger Federer, he was the protagonist of a spot for Barilla pasta, which went around the world. Another one seems to be coming.
During our conversation with him at the Technogym boutique in the centre of Milan, we talked about his passion for sports and cooking, as well as some of his most notable life experiences. Because of his passion for sport and his experience at Casa Italia, we immediately asked him how he became the chef of sportsmen. Davide Oldani has explained us that being a sports and sports chef means being a contemporary chef, which is not the same as doing nouvelle cuisine or cooking without taste. For Davide, the kitchen is based on wellbeing. Today all of us eat almost for fun, now we no longer have the need to feed ourselves to live. Precisely for this reason making great cuisine means having quality products, following the seasons and having the utmost respect for food.
We are all used to thinking that tasty is synonymous with being fattening. However, for the Michelin star chef the essential task of modern cuisine is to give taste but lightly. Once oil and butter were synonymous with taste, which still undoubtedly bring taste to food but are objectively fattening, and in the end hurt the body. Today, by halving these fatty parts and using other elements, other cooking methods, experimenting with herbs and spices, and creating harmonious menus, it is possible to make food tasty and healthy.
As a sports chef, Davide Oldani also explained that food must always be associated with movement. Food and exercise together are essential for humans. That is why the chef has understood for years that great cuisine has to deal with sports, and that food needs movement to produce energy. In short, the perfect equation.
This equation is part of the chef’s life, who according to him:

Personally, I always compete with myself. I like to eat, even in large portions. So as soon as I can and have some time, I do sport.

Among the most practiced sports by Davide Oldani are cycling – a solitary and competitive sport, and tennis, the latter being a more recent passion of the chef. His passion for sport began when he was a child, as he played football at the church’s oratory. Speaking of the sport that Davide started and temporarily abandoned, he told us about his experience with golf, which he began in the United States.

Do you use Kinesis to train? You have one in the kitchen, at D'O

Yes, the Kinesis is fantastic piece of equipment, a work of art... In theory, I should use it myself, but time is always short. My clients can only watch it (laughs).

We went back with the chef to a subject very dear to him, the equation for achieving well-being and harmony in the kitchen. As with food, he answered that for a good sports life, sports should never be abused. With sports, you really have to understand how much and long your body can perform. Davide told us: "I may be one of those who, when playing a sport, plays music out loud, but I may risk overdoing it because I don't listen to my breath”. It is all a matter of balance and harmony, two words that also make the world in the kitchen.

For Davide Oldani, harmony in a menu only exists when you don’t have the repetition of ingredients. Harmony in food is also to never repeat the same ingredient more than once. That is when you make tasteful, modern and healthy cuisine.

The athletes of Casa Italia knew this well. Whoever arrived at Casa Italia from the sports fields was always someone who had just won a medal. The desire of the champions was an Italian dish and the chef worked hard with the very few fresh products he could find. Nonetheless, there was never a lack of seasoned cheese, cold meats and pasta. Meat, fish and vegetables were found locally.
Was there any whimsy sportsman at the Olympics?

No, actually some of them asked me if they could cook with me. One of them was the swimmer Gregorio Paltrinieri. I cooked pasta with him. Everyone wanted pasta. Sportsmen are used to sacrifice and when they want to treat themselves, they ask for simple dishes. In that sense, it was a pleasure to please them.

Based on this statement, we have asked him if it is not true that carbohydrates are enemies of sport. Oldani replied by telling us that nothing is man's enemy, not even that famous chocolate cream. The important thing is to eat a little of everything, with balance. Then you have to deal with the metabolism, which is different for each of us. Today, compared to the past, technology helps us to better understand who we are and what we need to do to train ourselves.

We then took another step back into his past and asked him of his beginnings in a kitchen. In fact, if today he is an established chef in the world, he was once a very young student of Marchesi and Ducasse. Of all the advice from the great masters who he has treasured over the years, he told us about his first day at work, 35 years ago. That day Marchesi said to his father: "These guys are like absorbing sponges. One day they will release what they have learned. But it takes time.” Time - he explained - is precious because, as in life, time is needed in the kitchen. A dish is unlikely to be good if it is not given the attention it deserves.
In addition to time and patience, behind a good restaurant there is always good organization.  In that regard, Oldani defines himself in the kitchen as the Gianluca Vialli of the 90s, who was both the bomber and the coach. You cannot just play one role in the kitchen, and choosing the right people to work with is just as important as personal kitchen skills. In this sense, team life in football has been fundamental for the chef, because even in the kitchen everyone brings his or her own value.

Deepening his strategy for the harmonious cuisine, he tells us that in D’O there are two chefs, two "heads of game", and for each dish there is a discussion. If there are four ingredients from four different parts of the kitchen on the plate, the four "matches" must synchronize perfectly. Ingredients are crucial, as a good dish starts there.

We asked him if he loses patience with his collaborators. Davide replied:

When the activity goes well there is little to be angry about. You get angry only if you're not organized in the head. I understand that the screams they made to me are not necessary.

In this regard, he tells us that Marchesi was absolutely not the sort of person who shouted or abused swearing, but that he was rather an extremely elegant person. Instead, he explains that the angry, angry Hell's Kitchen was born from his experience of working with Gordon Ramsay in 1989, when both at the beginning of their careers worked at Le Gavroche in London. There Ramsay had understood that the "severe" system of reproaches and screams would have been fascinating to broadcast. The work was very hard; in just one year over 23 cooks had left the kitchen.

For example, he tells us that at the time nightmarish hours had to be respected, arriving in the kitchen at 5.30 am and leaving only at midnight. Ramsay was in charge of the fish and he worked the meat. It was hard. It was the time when French cuisine dictated law; fortunately, today everything has changed and so have the laws on working hours for cooks.

Today, the chef has decided to make important decisions only when he feels rested and relaxed. There is also a good working system with his colleagues in motion, which promotes the harmony of the group, since everyone has a task. Once in the kitchen, there is no boss that controls everything, but each cook controls their partner, because the rest depends on his process. In short, teamwork is everything.

Coming to the spot with Roger Federer, we asked him if the alchemy on the spot was because of the director’s skill or if instead it was genuine. Oldani answered that in everything he does there was nothing pre-packaged. He continued by saying that with Roger a good harmony had been immediately established, as he is sincerely interested in cooking. They then talked at length about many topics including the way to cook certain dishes. He seemed to him as a person with some experience.

And what about your experience in tennis?

I played in the past, now I have resumed with him.

We went into a bit more gossip, and asked him some secrets about Federer and what he had prepared for him during their meeting. Oldani told us that Federer eats everything but that they share the same flaw: they tend to eat quickly. During their meeting, however, he told us that it was his collaborator, Alessandro, who cooked him an appetizer and some spaghetti. The appetizer in particular was a dish created for the opening of the new D’O restaurant, called, coincidentally, Battuta d'Inizio (First Serve), and composed of a ball made of Teff, a Central African cereal, and a very airy cheese.
Please tell us something, can Federer cook?

He is very fond of cooking. In my opinion, he would not have even accepted the spot had he not been interested in the product. We have talked about many things. For example, the day before seeing me, he had met Björn Borg, who himself is a very interesting man.

Since his restaurant in Cornaredo always has many customers, from the most famous to the richest, it felt natural to ask him if he had ever received some bizarre requests. The chef answered that weird requests had come and that he tried to satisfy all of them, as far as possible. In fact, he pointed out that D'O is not a trendy place, but a place where people come because of their passion for cooking. Nevertheless, he told us that recently the strangest request was from a Russian entrepreneur, a guest with six friends. He had chosen the table in the cellar because he wanted to sip several wines and at a certain point, he asked to find someone to come and sing for him in Italian. He was promptly satisfied.
Arriving at the end of our chat, we asked him if there was a sliding door in his life that he sometimes thinks about. Davide Oldani replied by saying yes, and told us how he got injured playing football at school, which forced him to abandon his professional sports career.
What player did you want to look like when you were very young?

I would have liked to look like Baggio, because he managed to connect his head with his feet. That should not be taken for granted.

We concluded our interview with a final curiosity; we asked him what the kitchen was like at his home and whether there was a home recipe that he brought to his restaurant. He answered by saying that his family has passed on his passion and love for food, which is no small feat. Then he claimed that there was a dish indeed, a revamp of Milanese risotto in a crust. He took the idea from his mother's cooking pot, in which she cooked risotto for the family. Keeping in mind that a tasty crust was formed that remained attached to the pot (those who are from Milan can understand) and that everyone in turn at the end of dinner wanted to taste it, Davide Oldani created a crust made of water and rice flour. Though the ingredients are different, the consistency is the same. When he prepares it, he remembers his childhood.

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