Faces

Radiance flavors Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s cuisine

The clock strikes seven in the morning, the sun glides across Lake Como’s waters and slips cheerfully into the Grand Hotel Tremezzo kitchen. In an instant, its rays penetrate the huge picture window and set the copper pots sparkling, a symbol for chef Gualtiero Marchesi’s “golden rule”. What makes a dish special? Its “radiance”, its character, its simplicity. And what makes the cuisine at La Terrazza Gualtiero Marchesi, the only restaurant in the world that serves the culinary creations of the late great Gualtiero Marchesi, so special? Precisely that “radiance” which emanates from the kitchen brigade, that energy which Osvaldo Presazzi, a student of Marchesi and today the Executive Chef at the Grand, brings to the kitchen each morning when he meets with his young collaborators to discuss the day’s tasks. So sacred is this daily ritual that it is called “the mass” in France. “We may be a bit lighter and more spontaneous in our kitchen, but we are certainly no less rigorous,” explains the chef as he sips his first cup of coffee with his two sous chefs, Roberto Nese and Davide Somaschini. A few more seconds of calm, just enough time to slip on his black apron and tie it behind his back before the spectacle begins. Everything rises in crescendo, the more reflections appear on the lake, the more head chefs and commis take their stations.

Amid the muffled silence, the first voices emerge, the first calls come in: it’s the suppliers – “Marchesi always said that true cuisine enhances the quality of the raw materials,” Presazzi recalls – and a few room service orders. Care is given with the finishing touches, an orange-tinted rose placed just so on the tray, and the waiter is off on his way to one of the historic suites. “There are twenty-six of us in the brigade, all working in different roles, from La Terrazza to L’Escale, from the poolside pizzeria to Villa Sola Cabiati, the domain of chef de partie Davide Galimberti. For sure, this is a winning team – after all, we won this year’s GHT soccer championship against every other department of the hotel,” Osvaldo says with a smile.

The clock strikes 8:30 and the glass doors of the kitchen open, where Anya, her eyes as blue as the lake, is already preparing the eggs for the guests’ breakfast. “Maestro Marchesi loved having women in his kitchen, in honor of the first great cooks we ever knew – our mothers,” Presazzi remembers. “It is also important for the guests to walk through the kitchen door and see how beautiful our workplace is. Sometimes they imagine it as a loud, chaotic scene, like something they might have seen on TV. Not here! No one would ever say I’m not demanding – on the contrary, I ask a lot of everybody in the kitchen and they know it – but I firmly believe that the quality of our interpersonal relationships is the secret to our success, especially as the pace in the kitchen can get very frenetic.” Sometimes it almost seems as if they are on the front lines of a battle, for example when a table asks for an entire meal off menu. “Then, it’s up to us to respond with a smile and comply with their requests as quickly and as efficiently as we can – which is only possible thanks to such an extensive, tried-and-true repertoire.” It’s no surprise that the term brigade de cuisine has its origins in the military. “It was the legendary George Auguste Escoffier, the founding father of French cuisine and the personal chef of General MacMahon during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, who took inspiration from the hierarchical structure of the military for his innovative and highly efficient organizational system in the kitchen. To this day, every chef is seen as the general of his own brigade and every day, with the support of the troops, these chefs fight to achieve perfection in service.”

By the time the first lamps come on in the evening, you can see the entire brigade reflected in the picture window, and the lights at each station mingle with those on the shore opposite Tremezzina. The chef and sous chef come together for a final consultation. Everyone is at their stations dining on their feet, each wearing the white toque, the classic chef’s headdress that first made its appearance in France in the early 19th century. One more coffee before it kicks off – after all, it’s going to be a long night – and the first guests begin to arrive at La Terrazza Gualtiero Marchesi. When the orders start coming in, neatly lined up on the counter, the symphony begins: “Run the scallops! Run the lobster and peppers! Run the golden rice and the filet alla Rossini.” At his private station, which is basically a whole second kitchen, Andrea Ardente, the pastry chef, is finishing the millefeuille with ovis mollis pastry, mascarpone cream and mixed berries.

The clock strikes 11, and Osvaldo Presazzi makes one more round through the dining room to greet a guest, then a final “Thanks, guys, see you tomorrow” and the lights go out. There is just enough time for a quick photo of the chef and the brigade in the candlelit romance of Sala Regina. The radiance of yesteryear recalls the ambiance of Grand Hotel Tremezzo at its birth. The radiance of today offers an experience of modern Italian cuisine at its finest. Radiance, character, for ever and ever.