King of Senses

Damini&Affini

Damini&Affini

MILAN, Italy — Nothing envelopes the senses more than the art of cooking. Presentation, garnishing, the cracking sounds and delicate textures are all engaging elements, almost overpowering, but it all started with the king of senses: the taste. From the first roasted meat to the (really adventurous) first taste of raw oysters, what we became and what we are is always closely linked to what and how we eat it.

In his excellent essay on cultural and social evolution, Catching fire – How Cooking Made Us Human, author Richard Wrangham develops the theory that we evolved only when we started cooking, which allowed less time on foraging and more on other specialised activities. However, our ancestors did not pick up cooking because they had a greater plan, rather they started simply because it tasted good.

Damini&Affini

Damini&Affini

Since meat was the first ingredient of our journey – to meat we shall return. Enter the Damini brothers, Gian Pietro e Giorgio, a duo of chef and butcher who did exactly that: they went back to the basics. Born into a tradition of generations of butchers, one continued with carving while the other moved to gain indispensable culinary exposure, eventually coming back together in their native town of Arzignano in the Northeaster part of Italy to open Damini&Affini, a butcher shop come restaurant.

Gian Pietro is the fourth generation of Damini embracing the meat industry, a profession that for him is a mix of ethics to customers, animals and taste. Gian Pietro has very vivid memories of the first flavours he tried, memories that bring him back to comfort food and his mother’s stew as he explains: “It would slowly simmer for hours, and I would take a small morsel every now and then – so much that one Sunday lunch my mother served an empty pot.”

Gian Pietro continues: “Another indelible memory is my grandmother’s selection of cheeses. She used to have a small dairy farm up on the mountain. My first trips to market with my father were a senses feast too, which always ended with a tripe soup and, during winter, a selection of bolliti (boiled meats).”

Damini&Affini

Damini&Affini

On the aesthetics of current trends, “I feel you cannot run away from the fact that while presentations are important, your ingredients are king. To best appreciate them, you have to know them and explain them to your customers as much as you were trying to appeal to their gut feelings.”

Giorgio fell in love with cooking during a short culinary class when he was not even a teen, and went on to hospitality school and apprentices in several Michelin restaurants.

Giorgio’s memories of tastes and flavours are linked to his childhood, like the steak his father used to fry when he was getting back from school or hearty family meals during the holiday season. More surprisingly, of all dishes he cooked and tasted in starred kitchens, the one he recalls best are the traditional recipes, very often left unchanged and untouched by all modern trends.

And taste for a chef is even more pivotal:

I like to keep my dishes simple, using four ingredients and nothing else. Elaborate decorations and multiple layers of food on plates are not the central part of my cuisine. The visual part of a dish is an introduction to what I am offering, a path. What really carries guests along is taste,” highlights Giorgio.

We might have come a long way with techniques, new ingredients and cross contamination, but we can’t escape from reality – it all still and will always revolve around taste.

Damini&Affini

Damini&Affini

Courtesy and Photography by: Gian Pietro Damini and Giorgio Damini, Damini&Affini | Website: www.daminieaffini.com
Dino Pozzato About the author

Having a very reputable but conversation killing day job, he has spent the last ten years scouting for and reviewing restaurants, food and recipes. A watch and car collector, he enjoys the finer things in life and shares his tastes with us.

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