Rantan: from seed to plate. The new sustainable farmhouse that closes the production circle.
It seems like the beginning of a fairy tale: their jobs make them meet in Denmark, love unites them, and their dream brings them to Italy. On July 14, 2019, Carol Choi and Francesco Scarrone set up Rantan, the Nordic-looking Farm House in the heart of Valchiusella, in Piedmont region.
The interview with Carol and Francesco is a pleasant game in which the two of them pass the ball equally, but where neither of them wants to win. Their complicity is a cuddle that guides me in their storytelling.
By Lodovica Bo
Who are Carol & Francesco?
Carol: born and raised in the United States, in the big apple, but her origins are Korean. She graduated in literature and worked in publishing. Then the turning point: she wanted to cook and attends a cooking school, she knew she wanted to work in the world of food, but without yet having a precise goal. She works at “Per Se” in NY; at the award-winning “Noma” in Copenhagen; then, at “Relae” of Christian Puglisi, where she meets Francesco. She was supposed to stay in Denmark for 1 year, but then it becomes 6. She has always worked in pastry and then focused on bread in the last 4 years. Later, she and Francesco got married and they moved to Italy, because of their new project. Before Rantan finally comes to life, she attends a Master in Political Science of Food, advising on bread in Milan.
Francesco: Italian, grows up in the Canavese area, in the Piedmont region. He always knew he wanted to cook, but his parents pushed him to do material engineering, which he attended for two years. He wins, however, succeeding in pursuing his great dream: cooking. He attends “Alma” school, which takes him to Sicily for a period of internship. But then he already knew he wanted to go abroad.
“I wanted a place that could shock me as much as possible. That was as different as possible from my idea of food, a place where something innovative was happening, and I chose Copenhagen. “
Here he chooses Relae. The initial idea was to stay for 2 months of internship, which then, however, turn into a permanent job. He works in all of Christian Puglisi’s restaurants: Relae, Manfreds & Vin, Beast, and Mirabelle. During these years the Rantan project began to be outlined in his mind, also thanks to the work stimuli he had.
“There was always close and collaborative contact with the producers, and it began to intrigue me that world.”
Working so closely with the producers, he planted the seed in his head to find out what was behind that world and decided to have an agricultural experience in France, at the end of which he returned to Denmark for two years and married Carol. After moving to Turin, he worked at “Consorzio.”
From Denmark to Valchiusella.
They define themselves as urban people, with the awareness of wanting a lifestyle also linked to nature.
“We knew we wanted to open a place close to the mountain, after years living in the lowland: but the compromise was to find a place where we could farm because that’s what we do in Rantan.”
Rantan is a farm, born from Francesco’s passion towards the world of agriculture and from their love for cooking and conviviality. It is not, however, a conventional farm, nor is it merely a restaurant.
“We knew we didn’t want a restaurant. We wanted a lifestyle reality that would give us space to explore our interests, always linked to food, but in a broader way. Our idea is to bring people together through food. For us, first of all, it’s important to enjoy life, having fun in our profession.”
It is, therefore, designed as domestic hospitality related to agricultural activity. Carol and Francesco think about the entire food production chain: from the seed to the table, creating a common thread between production and cuisine. It’s not only conceived sustainable from an enviromental perspective but also from a human point of view, opening to customers two days a week: Saturday for dinner and Sunday for lunch.
“It is a project that starts from a strongly personal idea, turning it into a reality so that it satisfied our interests and was also economically sustainable. We didn’t want a canonical restaurant because it leaves no space for anything else. Rantan allows us not only to cook, which is a fundamental part, but not the only one. Above all, it’s not the only thing we want to spend our time on.”
They have a total of one hectare, divided into the orchard, vegetable garden, meadow, and forest. The idea is to cultivate different varieties of vegetables in to serve a menu as much as possible characterized by what they grow. In fact, the vegetables they produce are not intended for direct sale, but only for their own kitchen, also because cooking for the moment is the best way to transform the one that are difficult to sell. “let’s take the example of kohlrabi or kale. We can prove that we can deliciously cook a product and make the costumers forget about their past trauma about products that were badly cooked. This is an interesting way of approaching agriculture and a winning way of selling products that might not be sold on the market. “
In fact, on their menu the intent is to turn the situation upside down: meat as a side dish, enhancing the value of vegetables. “We don’t want to be a vegetarian place, but we put the focus on our work, highlighting it. “
In this general framework, it is still a moment of growth and experimentation where they test different varieties and where obviously they stumble in some difficulties of growth, such as the tomato, for example, that doesn’t grow in that climate.
The production philosophy.
They don’t embrace a precise production philosophy, but the basic idea is simple and clear: they want to produce with the least possible intervention.
“We certainly believe in organic, for us it has always been obvious to want to produce according to these principles, we have never considered anything else. We’ve always worked in restaurants with this belief. Relae was the world’s first certified organic restaurant for all products. It’s a mindset we brought from Denmark.”
Their curiosity and desire to experiment does not limit them to a single productive vision, trying to have as much input as possible.
“We’re people who learn when they do and try, which is why we like to cook, use our hands and feel. You can’t read a manual on how to farm because every soil and climate are different.”
The only input, for now, is the compost, next year will turn to new quantities and production methods, trying the “No-dig”; it is a permanent mulch in which the fertilizer is placed on the lines of land where you will go to transplant, so that the flowerbed remains always cultivated and in production creating a natural barrier, so the grass does not grow.
In the house.
The concept is conceived as a place of sharing. There is only one table in the main hall that leaves the barriers and the traditional way of making restaurant. The unique table and the kitchen on the side are all mixed in the same room, inside their home.
There is also an independent accommodation for two people where to sleep.
The table in the dining room, therefore, is for a maximum of 14 people. Their suggestion, however, to have different groups as small as possible. The more people are in small groups, the more receptive they are and the better exchange there is.
“We want to communicate that the experience is to share with others.”
Rantan means “quagmire” in Piedmontese. Carol – laughing- says it’s the only word she can pronounce in dialect.
“The search for the name has been complicated. We did the world tour with names, but none of them convinced us. Then it arrived the name Rantan, who is Piedmontese but doesn’t seem like that, also because we can’t say to make Piedmontese cuisine. We don’t want to fall into the fiction of -like once upon a time. Throughout the first period it rained, and everything was muddy, so the name fitted perfectly. “
The Nordic influence.
The aesthetics of Rantan is a pleasant reminder of Northern Europe: cleanliness, minimalism, natural materials, and lots of wood. Although the appeal is not only in appearance: Denmark, for both, has been an essential training gym.
She: “The first time I tasted food at Noma, I remember telling René Redzepi that the food tasted alive. The design also brought back something alive. There was a game of different flavors and textures. I wanted to capture that concept and bring it back to Rantan.”
He: “One thing I brought with me from Relae is the idea of how you can create a tasting menu using products that in Italy were only used as a side dish. Being able to create exceptional dishes from products that in my background were of little value, is what struck me most. Many products in Italy deserve as much nobility as the well known, but they have been forgotten.”
“People are now ready to have more vegetables on their plates. The clientele so far is between 30 and 40 years old. We feel they need that food, something different, more vegetarian. We wish there were more restaurants with this concept out there. The generations that come to us are more receptive, while the older generations are more skeptical.”
The “Rantan model.”
Let’s hope Rantan can be a role model for everyone. Their choice not to have the restaurant in its canons is also dictated by the fact that they do not consider that model as a sustainable choice as a lifestyle.
“It would be nice to be able to create a model of hospitality that is not a restaurant, and that is more sustainable on a human level. We talk a lot about sustainability, but if at a professional level I spend 15 hours working, it becomes unsustainable, and you lose the joy and pleasure of cooking.”
They believe that the value of people working with food must change, but they also think that in terms of gastronomic growth, people are now more ready and receptive for a more casual and straightforward atmosphere.
“The restaurant is becoming an increasingly intimate place, seeing a return to the origins and simplicity of the joy of being fed. It is no longer just eating, but knowing, being together and knowing each other. “
Today’s gastronomic models.
“Chefs are stars today,” I say. “but farmers are rock stars,” says Carol, completing my sentence. “I think that people like Christian Puglisi and Renè Redzepi have a significant influence today, they try to change the world of cooking in a holistic sense: using a bottom-up process, taking the innovation of the kitchen outside of it. “
Thank you Carol and Francesco. It has been such a pleasure to meet you!
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