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The guardian of Italian cuisine
Salt, pepper and a selection of herbs. These are the only seasonings to be found in the kitchen of "Il Cortile" in Lucerne. They reflect the uncompromising cooking philosophy of restaurant owner Salvatore Ferraro.
The sun is high in the sky as the tourists wander through the narrow alleyways of Lucerne's old town. Some are looking for souvenirs, others for a restaurant for lunch. International guests rarely stumble across "Il Cortile", however. The little restaurant with its picturesque courtyard is too well hidden for a chance encounter. But that doesn't matter. They probably wouldn't find what they're looking for from Salvatore Ferraro anyway. There's no fettuccine alfredo, classic spaghetti bolognese or Hawaiian pizza on his menu.
"In my opinion, pizza with pineapple is not an Italian dish", he says as he goes from table to table, checking the place settings and straightening a napkin here and there. Despite having lived in Switzerland for almost forty years, there's no mistaking his origins when he speaks. Salvatore was born near Naples and grew up in Turin. He is proud to have come from a country with such a rich culinary heritage and wants to safeguard these cultural roots through his cooking. This is a challenging and – at times – gruelling task.
Salvatore is an extremely passionate restaurateur. He has spent almost his entire life in hotels and restaurants. First as a waiter, then as a chef and now as a manager. He sought to explore the true nature of Italian cuisine when he opened his first restaurant, Mamma Leone. He wanted to capture its essence and – together with a chef that he met at hotel management college – developed his culinary concept of simple dishes, fresh, high-quality, seasonal produce, all prepared to order and made by hand. "Original Italian cuisine is a poor person's food", explains Salvatore. The basic principle is to make a little go a long way, which is why many dishes need to be cooked for such a long time. However, better quality products reduce the cooking time. Steak doesn't require much cooking. Salvatore spent many nights reading cookbooks by famous Italian chefs, foraging for recipes, then simplifying and deconstructing them. Instead of a bolognese that has been hours in the making, he serves his guests an express version – seared beef fillet that tastes so good it doesn't need to be hidden in a pelati sugo sauce. He simply adds fresh tomatoes, courgettes, salt, pepper and basil – et voilà.
Salvatore's ricotta gnocchi accompanied by aromatic sautéed scampi, tomatoes and courgette follows the same principle. He adds a little of the gnocchi water to the pan and thickens it with cornflour. The professional chef also adds a few dashes of chilled olive oil. This reacts with the hot ingredients and makes the sauce more creamy.
Nowadays, restaurants refer to this type of cooking as market cuisine. A term that was barely in use when Salvatore began developing his kitchen philosophy twenty years ago. His approach was visionary, especially with respect to Italian cuisine in Switzerland – which at the time was epitomized by internationalized trattorias serving carbonara with bacon and cream. Salvatore imported his ingredients from Italy and many of his guests sampled cima di rapa (brocolletto), wild asparagus and small, fresh artichokes for the first time at his restaurant. Mamma Leone was a hit – and Salvatore became a victim of his own success. He had to hire additional rooms and in the end had so many covers in his restaurant that he was no longer able to implement his concept. He took a step back and opened "Il Cortile" in 2015. Although he no longer works in the kitchen, he holds unswervingly to his principles.
You won't find a single can, stock cube or drop of commercial gravy in the kitchen. "My father can be very stubborn in this regard", says his son, Michele, laughing. Unlike his two sisters, Laura and Giulia, the 25-year-old can see himself following in his father's footsteps. He's been working at his father's restaurant ever since it opened four years ago. Salvatore acknowledges his son's comment with a nod and a shrug of the shoulders. "I make life hard for myself", he says apologetically. But he is someone who is simply compelled to live out his vision. Even if this means being reprimanded by his bookkeeper at the end of each month because his product costs are far too high. One third of Salvatore's expenditure goes on his products because he refuses to compromise on quality. This is higher than in a gourmet restaurant. Even his wife, Emilia – a trained chef – keeps telling him to work more economically. However, there's no way he would abandon his philosophy just to make a profit. Salvatore is as authentic as his cooking. And his guests know that – and come to his restaurant precisely for this reason.
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