Antonio Terzano is the owner of the Osteria Dentro le Mura. At the last Slow Fish (Genoa, May 2011), he coordinated the Alliance restaurateurs. He told us his story and described his philosophy in the kitchen.
"Both my parents were teachers, and maybe that's why I think that culture is fundamental, even if you work in restaurants, seeing as how you're in contact with the public.
My mother died in a road accident when I was young, and ever since I had to work. To make some money, I started working as a waiter. I've always had a passion for cooking. While I was studying economics and business in Modena, my friends asked me to cook something different every evening. My home has always been an open house!
After working for several years in this sector, I figured out how things worked and bought a sandwich shop which I turned into an osteria. We cook both fish and meat dishes.
I was lucky to have one grandfather who did some farming and another who was a fisherman. My brother makes oil. Having a family who was active in agriculture helped me have lots of contacts with suppliers, most of whom were either already friends or have become friends over the course of the years.
Since the beginning, I tried to put into practice a particular philosophy in my osteria. At first it wasn't easy. In those years, if you didn't pursue quantity, like everyone else, you felt like you were being left behind. Now the restaurant industry is different, and my choice has proven more and more gratifying as the years pass.
I'm mostly supplied by small-scale fishermen and clam boats. I always look for a chance to put my customers in touch with the fishermen, so they can hear their stories, get a glimpse of their world and understand the issues they face and what their hard work means.
For example, fishermen in the Adriatic are trying to lower quantities, focusing on higher quality and thus giving their fish an added value. They only go out to fish three times a week instead of four, so as not to degrade the catch. This, together with reduced quantities, allows them to considerably increase the value of the fish.
These changes have been particularly effective in regions like the Marche and Emilia, and have since been adopted by the other regions along the Adriatic. Only Puglia is still oriented more towards an idea of quantity.
The future is represented by small-scale, selective fishing. The time of large quantities is over, and we're returning to an approach based on other factors: quality, localness, freshness...
Personally, as a restaurateur, I only choose local fish, fresh and definitely well selected. Not all the boats fish in the same way. Some don't treat the fish correctly: They don't use ice, they don't put the fish in a horizontal position, and then the fish becomes soft and the belly swollen. In the case of squid, for example, you have to put them in small crates, not too heavy, because otherwise the squid at the bottom of the crate will warm up and deteriorate.
I know everything about my work, from the origin to the finished product. It's my passion that pushes me to find out more and really understand what I'm touching with my hands. Then I like telling the customers what I know and explaining to them why I put one fish on the menu instead of another. Today, for example, I bought gray mullet, which costs practically nothing.
Diners aren't always so welcoming to new things, especially if there's a lot of prejudice around a certain species, as with gray mullet. Not many people know that there are two types of gray mullet, very different in terms of quality and taste. The ones that live offshore are excellent and an integral part of our culinary tradition, while those that live closer to the coast swim in dirty water and often taste of diesel oil, the fuel used by boats.
Many cooks don't know how to get their bearings in front of a market fish stall, and it's not even enough to know what to buy, you also need to know how to make the most of the fish! For example, I've discovered that mackerel is excellent with peppers.
To be able to come up with dishes and pairings, it's essential to know the sensory qualities of the different species. If you serve little-known fish, about which customers are hesitant, you have to be able to cook them in the best possible way, otherwise you'll never convince anyone that these poor fish can be a valid alternative.
I believe that to cook fish all you need is a gas stove (not an induction one, where you don't have control of the flame!), a grill for grilled fish and a frying pan for fried fish.
Our kitchen is two and a half by two meters. It's an open kitchen. The diners can see me, they ask me questions from the tables and so I never miss a chance to have a chat with them. What I want for my clients is an all-round experience. They must be involved and feel welcome and at ease.
Just yesterday the Osteria Dentro le Mura was awarded a snail from Slow Food, which is given to those places where not only do you eat especially well, but you also feel like you're at home.
On Sunday we'll celebrate with all the suppliers and friends who made it possible by doing such a great job over the years!
Click here to find out more about the Alliance between Italian chefs and the Slow Food Presidia (in italian).