She is now an almost unwitting member of the Swiss Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance. In December 2021, Gaïa Bongiorno, head chef at Carina Zermatt, has been invited to join the ranks of chefs from around the world who are committed to promoting niche and exceptional products. However, the preparation and presentation of refined foods is not an end in itself. More essentially, choosing and using Slow food products means contributing to the preservation of biodiversity, the defence of a territory and the life of a culture,” says Gaia. And this commitment is also endorsed by those who choose to eat ‘slow’.
“Salut Cheffe!” is a greeting Gaïa hears often as she walks the streets of Zermatt. A familiar face in the culinary ecosystem of this Upper Valais resort, the head chef of the “Table du Carina” restaurant has secured a permanent spot among local chefs. She has also befriended professionals from other restaurants, all of whom in the business of pampering tourists and locals. In the end, it was precisely those friends who brought Gaïa’s restaurant to the attention of Fabian, a “chef hunter” for the Swiss Slow Food Association.
The Slow Food movement was founded in Italy in 1983. It was born in opposition to the rise of fast food culture, as well as the dumbing down and standardization of taste by the food industry. Slow Food has developed programs in 132 countries to safeguard unique and endangered food products, traditional cooking techniques, and indigenous animal and plant species. These programmes, known as ‘presidi’, currently number 20 in Switzerland and concern mainly cheeses, wines, cereals, fruit and vegetables and their derivatives. Sicily is the richest region in the world for slow food products.
Sicilian chef Gaïa is committed to offering “good, clean and fair” food at the Table du Carina. This practice is in line with her colleagues in the Cooks’ Alliance of Slow Food Switzerland. Gaïa uses local and high-quality raw materials from selected farmers, ranchers, fishermen, butchers, bakers, and small businesses. Her suppliers have in common that they perpetuate traditional crafts while respecting the environment, landscape, and animals’ welfare.
In Gaïa’s kitchen, her attachment to the Valais terroir meets the diversity of her own homeland. As a result, the “Table du Carina” has become a “crossbred canteen.” A place where one is invited to make habits, while letting oneself be surprised.
The chef thrives on her new discoveries. And nothing excites her more than meeting new producers who tell her about their craft and passion for their products. “It’s like listening to your nonna, your grandmother, and being immersed in stories from another era,” Gaïa explains.
Recently, she has met a vegetable farmer from the Piedmont region of Italy who grows the infamous cardon. (These, by the way, are related to the prickly “cardon épineux” variation from Geneva). It was love at first sight for Gaïa, and the Piedmontese cardons have a prominent appearance these days at Zermatt’s “Table du Carina”.
Recipe for cardoon fritters and bagna càuda mayonnaise
In Piedmont, cardoons are grown in the sandy soil of the Belbo River. To protect the vegetables during cold winter days, they are partially buried. This allows the plant to survive the coldest months and makes the stalk more tender and delicate to the palate. And since the plant naturally turns upwards towards the light, cardoons take on their characteristic “hunchback” shape. The prickly “cardon épineux” has been cultivated in Geneva since the 17th century. However, this variation is tightly wrapped in tarps, giving it a straight, white appearance. The Geneva cardoon is registered in the Federal Register of Designations of Origin (PDO) and Geographical Indications (PGI) since 2003.
Serves four :
- 1 cardoon
For the batter :
- 250 g. white flour 00
- ½ litre of sparkling water
- 1 egg
For the bagna cauda:
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 lemon juice
- 1 clove of garlic
- 4 anchovy fillets
For frying, oil in sufficient quantity
Clean the cardoon, then cut off the hardest tips of the leaves and peel the leaves to remove the fibers. Blanch in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the doughnut batter using the carbonated water, white flour and egg. Stir the three ingredients with a whisk until well blended.
The batter should be runny but still thick enough to coat the surface of the spoon.
To make the mayonnaise, place the egg yolks, anchovies, lemon juice and garlic in a mixing bowl.
At low speed, slowly add 250 ml of seed oil and 250 ml of extra virgin olive oil.
The mixture will slowly turn into mayonnaise. Season with a bit of salt.
Dip the cardoon in the batter and fry it in very hot oil.
Drain and eat them immediately along with the anchovy mayonnaise (bagna cauda).
And if you don’t have the courage to take on this recipe, come and taste it at the Table du Carina !