Intercultural cuisine in Italy: the integration of Italian’s products with different cultures and techniques

A double interview that aims to discover the interculturality of Italian cuisine, to make a journey into the integration and mixing of different cuisines aimed at obtaining one single gastronomy without limits or boundaries. Italy, like many countries, has a history of migration, of people coming and going, always bringing new traditions and knowledge. Specifically, some chefs have created their cuisine in Italy, integrating their origins and creating one cuisine with broad horizons: this is, in fact, the case of Jiang Wenxing, chef of MU Fish in Brianza and Takeshi Iwai of AALTO, part of IYO, the Japanese starred restaurant who made his breakthrough in Milan.

What is the soul of your kitchen?

Jiang Wenxing– Passion is a fundamental ingredient. When you work with your heart, quality and creativity stand out above everything else. My research is based on the principle of interculturality: for me, the encounter of many different traditions can transform the most traditional dishes that have accompanied my childhood and my experience into something new and priceless.

Takeshi Iwai– My approach is free from prejudices of style or geography. I was born in Japan but have lived in Italy for 13 years. My dishes are inspired by my origins, the principles of Italian cuisine, which I immediately loved and learned about, and the inspirations I learned during my travels around the world. The cuisine that I propose in the gastronomic restaurant of AALTO – Part Of IYO- is a cuisine free to be Italian Japanese or neither.

 

How would you define your cuisine in one word?

Jiang Wenxing– Creativity.

Takeshi Iwai– If I had to describe my cuisine in one word, it would be freedom.

What does experimentation in cooking mean to you?

Jiang Wenxing– For me, experimentation is synonymous with the challenge. The pursuit of balance, which never has to sacrifice inventiveness, remains the most important stimulus to fuel the passion that accompanies me in my work from the start. There can be no passion without obstacles, without a “push” that comes from them.

Takeshi Iwai– For me, experimentation is always about taste. It’s the foundation of every dish. Inspiration comes from an idea or often from nature, so I like to look for new ingredients to create new combinations of scents and flavors.
An exercise in balance between technique, precision, research, and taste, the foundation of every dish.

How do you integrate tradition and innovation?

Jiang Wenxing– Starting from more traditional dishes, to which I am very fond and which recall sweet memories in me, I search in new and different spaces for me, the one that can best integrate and transform the original into something new and more current; it is just loving the new experience combining it with the memory that allows me to integrate the distant and the new. I think it is curiosity, in this sense, that makes my culinary philosophy possible in practice.

Takeshi Iwai– I have great respect for tradition. The dishes that have been handed down to us are the result of a series of progressive refinements that make them difficult to perfect. However, I think it’s important to experiment to lay the foundations for tomorrow’s traditions. For me, the cuisine of the future will be increasingly free, borderless, and linked to health and sustainability.

 

Does the fact that yours is Asian cuisine cooked in Italy change its meaning or its essence?

Jiang Wenxing– My cuisine was born in Italy and it is precisely in this that it finds its meaning; cooking for me is first and foremost putting into practice the wealth of experience that I have gathered during my life and the result, which we are now talking about, is exactly the expression of a journey, of a life. Cooking in Italy does not alter the meaning of my cooking, on the contrary, in my specific case, it determines it from the very beginning. However, this does not alter the fact that I could find further stimuli and different trends, which I would gladly welcome, in other places, and at other times.

Takeshi Iwai– My cooking isn’t Asian or fusion cuisine, but plays between different cultures.

 

Do you consider your cuisine to be intercultural? How do you integrate Italian raw materials with foreign techniques?

 

Jiang Wenxing– I would call mine an intercultural cuisine. First of all, it must be said that the discovery of new culinary horizons can open new perspectives, to innovate also the taste and palate of a people through a curiosity that goes, more and more, towards other realities. So the basis for integrating a different culture with another one remains, first of all, an openness to experiment, in the strangest and most different ways, the union of “atypical” ingredients with those of the arrival areas, trying to satisfy the waiting horizon at the end of all this process. The result must first of all be appreciated by the tradition that welcomes, not by the starting one, which instead “gives” its culinary and cultural repertoire unconditionally; what I am trying to satisfy is precisely this need for novelty and openness to the world, and if I can do it is because I know very well the importance of getting straight to the heart of those who are looking for an experience of this kind. In all this, I also think there is something even more international, always necessary regardless of what you are looking for: the utmost respect for raw materials and product quality.

Takeshi Iwai– Being in Italy, I use raw materials that are primarily local. I select them for their quality, which must be impeccable, following the rhythm of the seasons. I enhance them without upsetting them, using Japanese techniques and not only.

 

Lodovica Bo