Riccardo Camanini


Riccardo Camanini

Working with Italian legend Gualtiero Marchesi and Le Manoir’s Raymond Blanc made Riccardo Camanini see cooking as more than just a job – it became a passion. Now he owns one of Italy’s most famous restaurants and has a Michelin star to his name.

Growing up in a small village near Bergamo, Lombardy, Riccardo Camanini’s childhood wasn’t full of memories in his mother’s kitchen, helping to make pasta or smelling sauces bubbling away on the stove. Instead, he loved playing football and hanging out with his friends – eating was just a part of daily life.

Even when Riccardo got a job working in a small restaurant in the village when he was fourteen, food still wasn’t high on his agenda. ‘I was never in love with the job,’ he says. ‘It was just a job to earn some money so I could go back out to play again. It was a natural choice for me to enrol at catering college because I’d already learnt various techniques, but I didn’t really see it as a productive thing to do. Eventually, however, cooking became a labour of love, and I kept working as hard as I could in small restaurants, constantly learning.’

At the age of nineteen, Riccardo landed a position working under legendary Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi – the moment in his life when he truly knew he was meant to cook. ‘I fell in love with the design of food and fine dining,’ he says. ‘I experience a new way of cooking; a cuisine made of art, something that reinterpreted time and space, making the most of both the material and spiritual aspects of a raw ingredient.’

With a newfound obsession for everything culinary, Riccardo decided to up sticks and move to the UK to build on what he’d learnt from Gualtiero. ‘I wanted to understand French classical cuisine so I went to work with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The way everything worked was very different – I loved the incredible garden and I fell in love with the place. I took a lot of inspiration from Raymond, especially how he ran the kitchen – I now run my kitchen in the same way, changing the chefs at each station every two months.’ Riccardo then hopped over the channel to Paris to work with Jean-Louis Nomicos, a chef who was Alain Ducasse’s right-hand man, at La Grande Cascade.

Eventually it was time to return home, and Riccardo accepted a job as head chef at the Villa Fiordaliso, on the shores of Lake Garda, when he was just twenty-four. For the next sixteen years he immersed himself in the role, learning how to manage chefs, organise the business and accept complete responsibility for the whole operation. He completed stages all over the world whenever he could to further his knowledge, working in the kitchens of restaurants such as Mugaritz and under great chefs including Hélène Darroze.

After turning forty, Riccardo was tired of working in someone else’s kitchen and decided to open his own restaurant with his brother in 2014. ‘We found a retro lido [outdoor swimming pool] by Lake Garda which was owned by an old lady and her family,’ he explains. ‘We wanted to respect her legacy and kept the name Lido 84. In fact, we made very few changes to the actual building, but designed a décor that was inspired by the colours of the lake, 1960s art deco and the works of Italian actor Riccardo Fellini.

‘Our philosophy for the restaurant was to pay homage to the quality of time,’ continues Riccardo. ‘We look at the dining experience as a whole; every detail counts and our dishes must show respect to the ingredients we use and the customers who come through our doors. I respect the products, the techniques and the mystery that can be found in every plate of food.’

Perhaps the most obvious example of Riccardo’s cooking philosophy is his infamous dish of cacio e pepe cooked inside a pig’s bladder – quite possibly one of the most Instagrammed dishes in Italy. ‘The idea came about one day after work when I went back to my brother’s house,’ he explains. ‘We poured a glass of wine and watched television. I had been thinking about creating a spicy, strong dish for the menu but didn’t know which direction to go in. I’d read about this Roman technique of using animal organs as containers to cook in – Bartolomeo Scappi, the Pope’s chef in the 1500s wrote a whole book about it. After trying a few different pasta dishes that turned out too al dente, I decided cacio e pepe had just enough cheese and liquid to make the pasta soft enough. It took a long time to get the dish right but it is a favourite of mine.’

Working with people like Gualtiero Marchesi and Raymond Blanc has made produce just as important as the cooking techniques for Riccardo, and he’s constantly working with suppliers to make sure he only gets the very best. ‘We have an excellent fisherman who catches us pike and sardines from the lake, and a butcher who is just as open-minded as me [he says this while picking through a box of sheep heads, inspecting the brains and eyes]. We are also resourceful – we make the most of the cedar trees and herbs surrounding us, using an extractor to make juices and oils from what we forage, to add to broths or risottos.’