She has a wonderful name which evokes both the nourishing land and a sense of hospitality. Gaïa Bongiorno, our young chef, pays tribute to her Italian roots by celebrating the finest of Italian products in the kitchen of the Carina. After Sicily, where she grew up, Milan, where her vocation was born, and various experiences at select European tables – Brussels, Barcelona, Paris – destiny brought her back to Zermatt where, as a child, her father took her skiing.
Gaïa, you’ve been in Zermatt for almost a year now. How do you find yourself?
I feel good here. I’ve made friends, I work in a great team and, above all, I’ve truly found my calling in the Carina kitchen. That’s to say, I was given a place to unfold, which is rather uncommon in the culinary world where it is difficult to have one’s true value recognized…
What’s unique about La Table du Carina?
Cooking at the Carina kitchen is like preparing food at home. What I do here has the same feel of hosting my friends. The kitchen is open, customers linger at the table and discussions are often improvised until late in the evening. I work right next to the lounge, so when I meet the guests, they often ask me what’s for dinner. Our menu changes daily and they are curious to taste new dishes. I tend to improvise like I would at home. And if someone lets me know that they don’t eat garlic, I will adapt accordingly. Our approach is really unique – we’re definitely less of a traditional restaurant and more of an intimate pop-up eatery serving dinner.
What’s the source of your inspiration?
My cuisine is linked to the italian soil, to this land that I love but where I cannot live – the job is too unthankfull there. It’s a cuisine of the product rather than of the recipe. While working in Milan, I met the person who is now my supplier of Italian products, and I had a revelation. Handling foods that were produced with love and respect, exulting in their flavors, has opened my heart. My cooking is instinctive, as was my mother’s. She would cook in a free-spirited manner.
Which dish is the best reflection of you?
That would be caponata with eggplant and a simple piece of bread. It is a common Sicilian dish which I would often eat during summer. Or maybe the recipe I had placed on the menu of the first restaurant where I was appointed chef, in Milan: a perfectly ripened San Marziano tomato, slightly crushed in the essence of seawater…
How do you manage to integrate the Valais, and in particular Zermatt, into your cuisine?
I am sensitive to the principle of using “zero kilometer” ingredients. A large part of my basic products – meat, eggs, dairy products – are sourced in Zermatt and the surrounding area. I basically cook like a Sicilian in Zermatt. My risotto will soon be made with the rare Mund saffron, of which I have just reserved a few grams. My biancomangiare – a Sicilian speciality with oriental accents – is prepared with milk from Zermatt. And for my canoli, I use the “frischer Zermatter” instead of ricotta …