Chef Marco Stabile (1 Michelin star) tells us how and why he uses edible gold.
Florence, October 2019. We meet Michelin star chef Marco Stabile at Ora d’Aria, his magnificent kingdom in the heart of Florence. Where he makes guests dream with flavours, fairytales and bits of magic.
How and when did you discover edible gold?
(He tries to remember and laughs, ndr). I think I saw it for the first time in the hands of a pastry chef. It has always been a traditional element of pastry making. The turning point, however, came with Gualtiero Marchesi and his saffron and gold leaf risotto: he was the one who brought gold into the kitchen. It was brought to my kitchen by Niccolo’ Manetti.
Where do you prefer to use it and why?
I use it where more needs to be said. And it’s not so much a question of aesthetics as it is of storytelling. Some time ago I made a squid based dish and I called it “The Vertical Migration of the Squid” because – as many know – when a squid sees the light, it rises from the bottom of the abyss to the surface. I prepared an almost transparent potato cream and I put seaweed in it to evoke the taste of the sea. At the bottom of the plate I placed a very intense squid compote and I then left the squids a bit suspended. The dish had everything except the light that makes the squid surface. I found that light by using edible gold. It is a very simple dish, but it can tell you something extraordinary: the daily travels of squid towards sunlight.
How much gold and silver do you use in your kitchen?
I rotate the menus, and there are anywhere from six to eight menus every year. Three of these menus have at least one dish made with edible gold.
What reaction do people have when they see it / taste it for the first time?
It is always the same question: “Can we eat this?” First we reassure them that everything we put on the plate is perfectly edible. Then we tell our customers stories about the properties of edible gold.
Any advice for those who want to try using edible gold?
First of all – like all extraordinary things – it must be used with intelligence and moderation. I also like to imagine that the use of edible gold is somehow always linked to the story about the dish it decorates. I am fascinated by the idea of using it as a way to talk about dishes inspired by the Medici tables or by a Florentine monument. Gualtiero Marchesi did just that, while talking about his saffron and gold risotto. He spoke of his love for the famous gold Madonnina on top of the Milan Cathedral.
More recently I heard about and loved an idea by Davide Oldani who prepared a fish baked in foil that you can also eat, since it is made of edible silver. It’s a brilliant idea, but if he brings that dish to the table without explaining the fact that everything is edible, it wouldn’t have the same effect. The great thing about that dish is the idea behind it. The story.
Why are gold and silver so successful in the world of pastry making?
I believe that for pastry chefs edible gold and silver products are above all light points: they are used to embellish, to attract attention. Confectioners need it more than cooks because pastry is made of very few naturally coloured elements: chocolate, fruit, creams. Gold and silver for them are colours that create a spectacle.
Any suggestions for skilfully plating dishes with edible gold?
Because it is a decoration, gold should always be added at the end. The format must be chosen according to the recipe: for an important dish gold leaf is perfect, for a refined dish, but more friendly I would use crumbs, which diffuse light and inspire a festive ambiance. And so on for the other formats.
The dishes made with edible gold and silver products are very successful on Instagram. Why is that?
Because we are all magpies attracted by the glitter of precious things (laughs, ed.). Christmas gifts have gold and silver ribbons. They are metallised, to attract our attention. The same dynamic is true on social media.
You and our company share a strong bond with Florence. What is your favourite spot in the city?
Ponte Vecchio. And the Uffizi and Borgo degli Albizi. But also the greenery of Fiesole and the Rose Garden. Florence has a thousand beautiful spots; it is difficult to choose just one. I just love the Bargello Museum. When I see those long lines at the Uffizi and no one in front of the entrance of the Bargello I can’t understand why. Even just the inner courtyard of that museum is worth a trip. And the spikes on the main door overlooking Via Ghibellina remind me a lot of cannelés, a typical French sweet.