I’ve never been a fan of conducting interviews over meals, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yes, as a prelude to a formal sit-down, whereby participants get to know each other better, but let’s simply enjoy the act of breaking bread together and get to business later.
Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule. Yesterday was one of them. As part of my visit to Tecno 3 in Corneliano D’Albo, Italy, owner Bruno Porro, together with consultant Pieranelo Pagliotti, Marketing Manager Monica Chiarle and Multiprocess Sales Agent Andrea Pittaluga, drove to the beautiful town of Vicoforte, which sits at the foothills of the Alps.
Unlike Chicago — it actually snowed on the Cubs’ home opener — northern Italy is verdant with spring, very much in color and bloom. Until yesterday, I wasn’t familiar with who Silvio Bessone is. After enjoying a wonderful four-course meal “contaminated by chocolate” and listening to the man talk about his craft, I’m truly grateful to have a job whereby I get to meet such passionate artisans.
In doing some preliminary research, I did find out that Bessone is regarded as one of Italy’s most respected chocolate makers and chocolatiers. Having decided that he would be a chocolatier at the age of 5, upon which his grandfather told him that he should modify his goal slightly by becoming “the” chocolatier, the 50-year-old multitalented genius has certainly worked hard in realizing that advice.
But let me get back to our lunch first. The first dish consisted of charcuterie featuring salamis that contained cocoa bits. Even the accompanying bread basket featured breads that were made with cocoa butter.
As Bessone explained, “Cocoa butter contains no cholesterol and is better for digestion.”
A salad featuring greens and vegetables from his own winter garden, as well as freshly made cheese that contained petite pieces of cocoa nibs, greeted us a starter course. Naturally, the cheese comes from Bessone’s Alpine mountain cows that are in the care of local farmers.
“They take care of my cows and I buy the milk from them,” he said.
The third course featured a tricolored tagliolini dish with porcini mushrooms that included a chocolate-flavored pasta strand. Delizioso.
Into the home stretch — and I already was nearly full — came a seared ground veal patty accompanied with potato slices, carrots and greens. A dusting of cocoa bits circled the veal patty. To top it off, dessert was rolled in: a pink-colored, cherry-shaped, vanilla-based mousse with a cherry jam filling topped by a chocolate stem and accompanied by chocolate mousse with a dark chocolate bow (pictured).
During the entire course of the meal, Bessone expounded on his philosophy of biodynamic agriculture founded by Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and esotericist. Although some would say biodynamic agriculture is akin to organic farming, it actually entails a much more holistic approach to nature involving recognition of nature’s spiritual side.
Essentially, as Bessone says, “It’s growing products in the most natural way possible.”
This, of course, extends to cocoa. As expected, Bessone is a bean-to-bar chocolatier and chef. He’s made nearly a 150 trips to cocoa origins and farms. The restaurant is a natural extension of his production facility and features a mini museum, as well as an area for teaching about cocoa and recipe courses.
His Five initiative, which can be found on his website — www.siliviobessone.it — involves fundraising geared around his mission to establish biodynamic techniques involving cocoa farms. The Five Foundation seeks to finance such farms in Tanzania and Uganda and includes a plan to plant one million cocoa trees.
Our lunch discussion and visit extended through four hours, culminating in even more respect for the man. But I heard the phone ringing, which means my ride is waiting for a visit to Domori, another high-end chocolate maker. But look much more about Bessone in our June issue. In the interim, enjoy this industry. I certainly am.