We attended the first day of “school” of the Food Anthropology Laboratory in Milan and we understood that it is not a cooking “school” in the strict sense of the term, but a kitchen in which to fall in love with cultures from all over the world.
Opens in via Metauro 4 in Milan on LAC, Laboratory of Food Anthropology. The name already says it: it is not a traditional cooking school, because its goal goes beyond the techniques and recipes to learn.
The project was conceived by Giulia Ubaldi, a young anthropologist and journalist who, after a degree in Cultural and Visual Anthropology in Siena and four years in Cilento in close contact with agricultural realities, he begins to travel among the wonders of our country and beyond, especially in the Mediterranean. Each destination is transformed into a place to be rediscovered through extraordinary products, often forgotten, stories of producers and families, which Giulia tells with extreme dedication and love for numerous publications (including La Cucina Italiana). Meetings that intertwine and that after many years of work come together in a single place, where its more than 700 articles come to life.
It could only happen in her neighborhood, explains Giulia: “When I got the idea of opening this school, I absolutely wanted it to be at Giambellino. I didn’t want to do it anywhere else. Not only because it is the neighborhood where I was born, grew up, where I live and which I know best, but also because it is the one where the LAC fits best as a project. A neighborhood where 150 different nationalities live is the right place to start this journey ».
Then we leave for our first stop.
First day of school: the experience of a course at LAC
We are here for the lesson dedicated to Venezuelan arepas, welcomed by Giulia and the playlist chosen by Maria and Juan, our teachers for this evening. We sit around the large table of the LAC and we are already at home, together with our new friends.
Born and raised in Venezuela, Maria immediately confides in us how her love for cooking blossomed after meeting her husband Juan Carlos, a bread-making expert. In 2012 they opened a business together in Valencia, Carabobo: initially Maria should have dealt with graphics, an area in which she graduated, but then she became passionate about pastry. Thus was born Panes Y Chocolates, a bakery and pastry shop that unfortunately remains open only until 2014, the year in which the political situation and the difficulty in finding even the simplest ingredients, such as flour, forced them to leave their country to reach Italy. . Here they cultivate their passions, from that for art and music, with the band Migrasound, to that for cooking.
“The regime has deprived us of the possibility of being together with our family, but it has allowed us to make our culture known and to introduce us to a completely new one,” says Maria, always with a smile in her eyes.
As we chat, she invites us to help her prepare for the arepas, corn flour-based sandwiches that most represent the gastronomic culture of Venezuela. He tells us about when he prepared them with his grandmother and how today he prepares them with his son. And so we begin to understand more.
«My favorite arepa is the more traditional one, with ham and cheese, because it reminds me of when I went to school and ate it for a snack. But it can be prepared and stuffed in many ways: it can be cooked in a pan, in the oven, it can be fried, it can be sweet or salty. Arepas are our most popular dish, they are prepared in all homes and can be eaten in arepera. They often have funny names or names inspired by pop culture: for example, there is Reina Pepiada, the most famous in Venezuela, born in honor of Susana Dujim, Miss Venezuela and Miss World 1955 ».
Long last let’s have lunch! Let’s taste the Reina Pepiada in a version that combines the original recipe with an all-Italian ingredient: stuffed with shredded chicken, avocado and burrata. And then we do an encore.
After, it’s the turn of the pan de jamon of Juan, a variety of typical Venezuelan bread, each time stuffed with different ingredients (ham, cheese, olives and so on), but always characterized by a sweet note, like that of papelon, a sort of sugar syrup.
Finally the dessert, which still speaks to us of the history of Mary and Venezuela. Maria had already started studying pastry in her country, when the situation made it difficult to access ingredients such as milk and butter. To solve the problem, he dedicated himself to the creation of vegan sweets: «I love to exploit what nature can offer. Ingredients such as dried fruit and dates turn into the base of a cake, while coconut milk, thanks to its fat component, is perfect for creating creams and mousses ». So, with a slice of tart impossible to forget, we conclude the lesson.
But that of Maria and Juan is only one of the many stories that await you at LAC.
Food Anthropology Laboratory: a world cuisine to create culture (also Italian)
The circle is completed with the raw material used during the courses, from small Italian companies, from the vegetables of the farms around Milan to the extra virgin olive oil of Cilento. And here, while we enjoy the Venezuelan arepas of Maria and Juan, we sip the Sangiovese di Romagna by Enio Ottaviani which Giulia had told a few years ago. Or we savor the products of the Fraschina farmhouse in the recipes of Armenian vegetarian ritual cuisine and the fish caught in Sardinia becomes the protagonist of the marinades for Peruvian ceviche.
Italy also returns to those who (for now) are the only 3 regional courses that once again recount Giulia’s journey: the Milanese tradition, which speaks of her roots, the discovery of Cilento and the indissoluble link with the Mediterranean diet, and finally the contaminations of Ligurian cuisine.
A path, of work and life, which has made it possible to combine many different people, not always professional chefs, because not only the purely didactic aspect is important, but it is above all the conviviality which allows us to get to know each other and all his wealth in depth. After all, even when we travel physically we go in search of the most authentic, home cooking. As we increasingly need to reconnect and travel again, the LAC becomes the place where the whole world comes together in one room. Where on a single shelf you can find over 30 different spices from near and far places, such as saffron in Pittari or za’atar to be discovered in the course dedicated to Palestinian cuisine.
«In an era dominated by great chefs and haute cuisine – continues Giulia – my aim is to bring out more and more even the home kitchens, coming from all over the world, managing to bring authentic traditions here. In the dishes of a restaurant there is often too much mediation, but I am interested in enhancing people and their potential. I want to give a voice to those people who remain behind the scenes, who may not have the opportunity to open their own business. This is an opportunity to make known everything they know how to do ».
This is why the teachers have different qualifications: there are professional restaurateurs or cooks, musicians, housewives, artists, all with a great passion for cooking and for their land of origin. Some with incredible stories to tell, such as refugees and asylum seekers, others first, second or third generation migrants. Each with its own personality, capable of going beyond a generic representation of the country of origin.
But the exchange is reciprocal: “In the first days when I was designing the LAC, after realizing that the place also had a garage, I decided that I absolutely didn’t want to put the car in it, so I created a free condominium library, always open, where cooks, students, or anyone who passes by can consult and share books of all kinds and cultures ». Another piece capable of completing a very distinct experience compared to the classic cooking class.
You just have to choose your next destination. Here the calendar of courses.