Gualtiero Marchesi, 87, pioneer of Italy’s new cuisine, dies

Gualtiero Marchesi, a pioneer of Italy’s new cuisine and the first Italian chef to be awarded three stars by the Michelin guide, has died.

The Corriere della Sera reports today that Marchesi was surrounded by his family at his home in Milan. The cause of death was a tumor.

Marchesi famously became the first Italian chef to be awarded the top ranking by the French restaurant guide in 1985 (published in 1986). He also made headlines when he “gave his stars back” in 2008.

“I’ve had enough with scores,” he said at the time. “From now on, I’m only accepting comments.”

A generation of Italian chefs — many of them now celebrities in their own right — cooked in his kitchens and studied with Marchesi, who is widely viewed as the father of the new wave of Italian cookery.

I only met him once, nearly 20 years ago in New York at an event at the Tavern on the Green. He was extremely approachable and polite, a true gentleman of Italian gastronomy.

In his talk that day, Marchesi, who was born in Milan and opened his first restaurant there, spoke of making a risotto alla milanese while attending a food event in Israel. He couldn’t use Parmigiano Reggiano — a key ingredient — to make the dish, he said, because it had to be kosher. He used olive oil instead, he recounted, noting that the omission of dairy didn’t diminish the authenticity of the recipe.

“You have to cook with the ingredients available to you,” he said. “That’s what makes for great cuisine.”

I’ve never forgotten his advice, nor will I ever.

Gualtere sit tibi terra levis.

Read the English-language Wikipedia entry on his life and career here.

Image via Bruno Cordioli’s Flickr (Creative Commons).

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