Tipografia Alimentare: the family soul that links people and passion to the product.
It’s 11:30 in the morning; there are 35 bottles from the day before. The Christmas lunch – extended to friends, relatives, supporters, and helpers – is over. All welcomed under the wing of the big TIPA family; we return to Martesana (with a bit of hangover), an area decentralized by the Milanese frenzy, where Martina Miccione and Carla De Girolamo have brought a real breath of fresh air to the Milanese gastronomic scene.
Born in 2018, Tipografia Alimentare, is a place aimed at the congregation, at meetings, but also at a bit of healthy solitude. Depending on the mood of the day, you can decide with what spirit to enter; there is still the certainty that the TIPA family will be there, ready to pamper you, from morning until aperitif time. There is no shortage of goodies, from specialty coffee to lunch dishes strictly “to share” (sharing is caring, the English people say), to end the day with a unique selection of wines, the good and live ones for real, accompanied by a cutting board signed Cascina Lago Scuro and other amazing producers. The engine? The passion, but also a lot, indeed a lot of care and dedication to products and producers. It took the dream of Carla, a former journalist, the expertise of Martina (Carla’s daughter), and Mattia – both graduates of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo – to bring to Milan a place that is not very much Italian. It is a simple and warm place; its core is the product’s value, which brings with it a story and a taste to (re)discover that any member of the team will be able to tell you perfectly.
How was the idea of Tipografia Alimentare born?
First of all, from passion. My mother, after 30 years as a journalist, decided to leave the boat before it sank, at the time they were offering good outings if you quit and so she decided to take it, to create something of her own. Being young, however, she didn’t want to stop working, and her dream has always been to have a bar, to talk with the elderly, the customers, she had this very romantic conception of the neighborhood bar where you can stand at the counter and listen to all the problems of people. She then asked me and Mattia to create a concept where she could work practically alone, but at that moment, we had no plans, and we decided to be part of it.
Tipografia Alimentare was born first of all from the place, in the sense that we first found the place and then decided what to do. In our head, there were many ideas in mind, not yet outlined: the idea of a cafeteria with specialty coffee, natural wine, a small kitchen, etc. At that moment, the situation escaped a little bit: there would not only be my mom, but we started to get passionate about it, so we decided to start the start-up. We found this location by chance; we liked the neighborhood also because I was born here, we liked the idea of doing something different and quality here and not in the center, we liked this view, the Martesana and Pontevecchio, so we took the space and built the concept around it.
The idea, then, was born a bit from the need of my mother to reinvent herself and from the desire of Mattia and myself to do something in the restaurant business, with a great passion for natural wines and cuisine that recalled the product.
How would you define the soul of tipA?
Familiar first of all, is also what our customers see in us. It’s not just familiar because it’s my mom and me, but the idea we wanted to create is that of a place where people feel at home and ease, whether they know us or not, and I think we’ve succeeded. So yeah, Tipa’s soul is family.
Why the name Tipografia Alimentare? What’s the thread between the story and the food?
The name was born a little bit from a joke, we were looking for one that would unite the world of food and journalism, and as a joke, I said: “let’s call it Tipografia Alimentare.” So I did it to myself because everyone liked it and in the end, we kept it.
The common thread is that of the story because we are interested in creating content behind the product: if you drink a coffee is not a simple coffee but a specific coffee, if you eat a cauliflower is not a simple cauliflower but a cauliflower produced by someone, it is, therefore, a question of wanting to tell and know who is behind the world of production. We have a very human relationship with all the producers, and we get along well with everyone. We visited all of them directly in the company, and outside we try to do it as much as possible; this is an aspect that we want to transmit to the customer, telling them about the work and the passion behind it. Because just as we select producers with passion, they also carry out their work with extreme passion, care, and a method towards the environment and sustainability.
An example of a producer you work with?
Corbari is our vegetable producer that we work with directly, he is 5 km from here. Now they are no longer the same owners, they are two young guys Luigi and Daniele, who have taken over what was the first organic farm in Milan. We chose to work with them because from a human point of view we found ourselves, then the absolute willingness and the will to believe in the project convinced us, so much so that they asked us if we needed to plant something special just for us. He collects wild herbs, experimenting also with exotic vegetables that he plants only for Asian restaurants.
We also work with Cascina Lago Scuro, which makes some fantastic cheeses. There is a lot of research and patience in our work because it is never a question of stopping at the first product you find.
We always try to make the selection, not only for sensory qualities but also for the human qualities of those who make it.
Do you think this is a concept perceived by the customer?
Absolutely. In the evening, for example, we make platters of cured meats and cheeses, and we “stressed” the story of the products a lot. There is no cutting board that is put on the table without explanation. The guys are well trained, and they are also all passionate about it: it’s not possible that they bring something to the table without knowing what it is. Now we are working on a menu idea so that the customer can know where the products come from.
In the beginning, it was not easy to convey to the customer that you have to spend a little more for quality raw materials and that this aspect is independent whether the restaurant is in the center or in the suburbs. People who come here are curious and want to taste new things: as in everything, people look for each other and consequently find themselves.
What do you want to convey to the customer the first time they sit down?
Certainly a sense of comfort and familiarity. It must be a place where you enter and feel comfortable, where you want to come back and where you want to do different things: entering it means not perceiving it as a single sector. It can be many different things: a place where you can work on the computer, where you can have breakfast, for a clientele ranging from students to elderly gentlemen. We also want to transmit the passion we have for the selection of products, and for the commitment we put into working with small manufacturers: by now, there are about 50 suppliers we work with. It’s hard to keep up with them, and not all of them are active all the time: we don’t work with a single supplier who works every day, but every time you have to work with different producers who maybe don’t even deliver to Milan, and you have to pick up the product in Piedmont. So it’s about having much more attention and time than the producers we work with, and we want the customer to be aware of this.
What does it mean that yours is a “brutalista” kitchen?
Because it hangs on to brutalist architecture, it was the term Mattia used to define our kitchen as soon as we opened. Brutalist because it’s material, it’s very focused on the product and not on its transformation. A dish of cauliflower is tasty not because it is elaborate but because the product itself is excellent. It leads back to a simple kitchen, which works with few ingredients, square, material.
How do you think you differ from the rest of Milan’s restaurants?
Milan has a vast choice, but there is undoubtedly no such place: there are many restaurants that make a significant transformation of the product. We also differ in the opening hours: we are available from morning to evening, so you have various bands of possibilities to use the place. It brings back to the concept of a French restaurant that I liked a lot: in the end, tipA was born as the ideal place for us. The idea of having a place underneath your house open where I can create daily moments, in my opinion, is wonderful, also because I am very attached to the idea of the neighborhood. Customers here become friends, and a unique relationship is created between them and us, combining the fact that here we make a great selection and a non-trivial cuisine. It’s a place far from the Italian concept of local.
What would you say could be the common thread between coffee, food, and wine?
They all have a thread that concerns a production method that follows the lines of organic, sustainable, nature-friendly. And it is no coincidence that those who drink natural wines also drink a specific type of coffee and eat a certain type of food. We work with high acidity and verticality in the dishes, coffee, and wine we select. From a sensory point of view, there is certainly a connection. Then also the opening times and opening hours, moments that everyone lives differently: my mother likes to work at breakfast, I love lunch, Luca the aperitif: so it’s also nice to be shaped on space.
Why make a menu divided by proteins, carbohydrates, veggies?
It was Mattia’s idea, not having fires in the kitchen; this, on the one hand, limited us, but on the other also gave us the chance to have more fun. When you are limited in life, you become incredibly resilient, so you have to find a way to reinvent yourself and be more creative. So because you don’t have fires, you couldn’t create a menu with first and second courses according to tradition. Secondly, we didn’t want a conventional menu because, in my opinion, it’s very limiting and constricting. If you have a menu with first courses and appetizers, you also have to stick to what in the general conception is part of these categories and we want to distinguish ourselves from this conception. The idea is that a person lives the menu as if he wants to live it, they are all dishes with the same quantities; it’s a menu made to be shared, and in this way, we can make it fall into the categories of dishes that are good for us but do not fall into a particular category. We want to unhinge the idea of the old-style Italian menu a bit: in general, we work a lot with vegetables, with few animal proteins, and when we do, we use one at a time to be as sustainable as possible, using all the parts. Now, for example, we’ve taken two halves of sheep, and the guys in the kitchen work it all: from tartare to broth with bones. In this way, we manage to have almost zero waste. Vegetables, on the other hand, are more fun to work on in the transformation, because they allow you to do things that are a bit different, that amaze. For example, carrots with sumac and chili are a bomb, and they drive people crazy. When I can convince people to take dishes they wouldn’t take normally, and then they are amazed, and thank you, that is a great satisfaction. So with this menu, I can say we can have fun.
The team is a mix of family and friends, how do you keep the affections at work together?
That’s a big mess – she says laughing. The team is made up of me and my mom, and then I’m in the room: Lavinia, my mom’s friend; Luca, now a dear friend of mine; Anna, a dear friend of my sister, my sister Bianca sometimes. In the kitchen, there is Ilenia, a great friend with whom I went to high school together; Lorenzo, a great friend from university; then Antonio. It is not easy; on the one hand there is the fact of reconciling affection with work, which must be taken seriously, so when it is necessary, you have to take people back. But the most beautiful thing is that those who work with us do it with passion and believe in the project. I have the utmost and full confidence in all of them, and this is something that I notice and see missing a lot in catering: the idea of a united team that has faith in each other. Working with a special type of friends and people allows you to stay in an iron barrel. To say, they spend their day off in here, and this aspect says a lot: it represents home or part of the family for them too. No one has ever taken advantage of friendship, and this is a beautiful sign of respect.
Where do you think the world of gastronomy is going today?
I think we’re going through a moment of confusion. Milan lacks concepts: places more linked to the idea of bistros, easy places where you don’t spend much money, which is neither the trattoria, but that do some funny things that work with fermentations, for example. We’re still living, in my opinion, a period of settling down in the gastronomy: the superchef boom is just over, Michelin stars are starting to be seen with more nervousness, because I think people are a bit tired of spending so much, having a 20-course dinner and not remembering one. I am now much more dazzled by the comfort food than the fancy ones. Places like Trippa or Battisti have returned to a concept of tradition and trattoria seen in a modern key. They are essential because they bring people closer to tradition, seen with a modern key, but made by people who have impeccable technique. We are going towards a new phase, that of the product: the absolute search for the pure product. I like to think that that’s the next goal and that this myth of the great chef is being debunked when in the end, we’re only talking about food, not maximum systems. So I think we will understand the absolute importance of what the product is, how it is made, and who makes it. We’ll see, I don’t know how it will be brought back into the gastronomy, but in my opinion, something is being unhinged, there is more attention to the whole process.
Can food choices change the world? How can consumers are able to understand it?
We, for example, as a restaurant, are plastic-free, we have abolished straws, we use only stainless steel. That’s already something the customer notices and appreciates. We write on the menu that we work with small producers who work well. I think that today the word organic is abused; it’s a bit stewed and no longer makes the idea. So, we need to find another grammar to communicate with the customer and, in my opinion, is emphasizing the sustainable small production made with respect and in communion with nature for a better future. I don’t look at the certifications, and I believe that this is important to communicate to the customer, making them understand that the choices at the table are political, that can change the world, choosing a person rather than a supermarket, looking in the face who produce. This changes the vision of food and how to eat. When we also work with a protein, it is enough to use everything, and the customer understands that it is also a choice linked to sustainability. It certainly requires more work because you have to tell customers about it, make them understand it, and it takes effort and staff to do it. But I think it is also an essential responsibility of restaurateurs because they are the most accessible places for people and the restaurateur has to communicate important information at a time when we are experiencing enormous changes.
www.tipografiaalimentare.it, Milan Italy