The Leaders of Enogastronomy

Carlo Cracco Leading the Way: A New Era in the Galleria. The True Future of Italian Cuisine

Martino Lapini
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Dishes that touch the essence of taste, reaching the most intense notes of the ingredients: This, for me, is the respect for cuisine, not just revisiting a recipe or presenting it in a lighter form. The spring of Carlo Cracco and Luca Sacchi heralds a "new Italian gastronomic era" in the Galleria.

The restaurant 

Perhaps in Milan, everyone runs because they're afraid to stop. When you stop, you need to have a certainty and a motivation that isn't just about moving forward, progressing for the sake of progress itself. Carlo Cracco has stopped many times. And he's always restarted. When the pace was wrong, when he couldn't grow anymore, when he realized he couldn't ask for more. He probably restarted again today.

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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele’s buzz follows you even to the ground floor of Cracco's kingdom, in that bar that serves wonderful sweet and savory breakfasts and where you can have a Milanese-style lunch, a bit on display and a bit in a hurry. It's the backdrop of the exposed Milan, which likes to show off continuously. After all, the Galleria is a cultural legacy of the French and Napoleonic character, a challenge to Paris, an influence to look upward and then look a bit at oneself and perhaps brush the dust off one's shoulder.

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Outside the Galleria, there's another elevation, that of the Duomo, which doesn't stretch upwards but towards the Almighty. Cracco's building expresses human verticality. From the mass confusion of the ground floor, you ascend to the restaurant floor, a place that stuns you for a moment. It feels like being out of time. The opening elevator doors are a space-time gate. You are inside the building, inside the history, which Cracco chose to bring back to life with a renovation project that few know about and many take for granted out of distraction, myself included.

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"The restaurant floor spaces had been abandoned since the '90s. I saw something that probably only I could understand, see, and accept. The other floors were not connected; they were all separate properties. We participated in the city’s public tender and won. We started from scratch; the only thing we had were these beautiful windows. We tried to give it a soul, to imagine what these spaces probably looked like many years ago, with extensive research and compliance work. To make a restaurant coexist within the Galleria. To bring this place into the future."

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For those who are no longer amazed by anything, or who have abandoned any poetic criteria in their relationship with reality—for those who, basically, get excited like an artificial intelligence—hospitality at the Palazzo is just another way of saying business and revenue. Given that you can’t avoid passing through there, I’m pleased to highlight that a simple Milanese "standing" breakfast—coffee and brioche, to be clear—costs much less than in other renowned patisseries in Milan. We know there have been discussions about this between Carlo and Luca. So far, Carlo has always prevailed, maintaining more accessible prices compared to other offerings in the Galleria and, I would add, throughout Milan. We are talking about a delicious coffee and a spectacular croissant, one of the best in the city. Moreover, even aesthetically, they are on another level. For Cracco, the exchange of human sensitivity that occurs between those who provide and those who receive hospitality is something to preserve, something indispensable. Refreshment is not just physiological.

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"When Patti Smith came, she wanted to get away from the chaos of the Galleria, even from the often disorderly intensity at our ground floor bar. She immediately told us that here at the restaurant, it’s a whole different story. Then she asked for a little something to eat, 'You decide,' she told me. She put me in a tough spot. I went to Luca, and we decided to make something traditional, but our own. A nibble and then a main course. When I went to the dining room and asked her how it was, Patti didn’t respond. She got up and started singing one of her songs for us. I would never have asked her to do that. The gesture of sharing her art was something truly moving."

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Emotional is when something moves and touches you. When there's no presumption, just something powerful to communicate. Above the restaurant, there is the Mengoni Room floor, dedicated to events or private functions. It’s an interior space that creates the same wow effect as when you step out onto the balcony and look down at the human current you were part of just a few moments before. Cracco tells us that the splendid "Venetian-style" floor has been almost entirely redone, with craftsmen kneeling for days, composing the surface piece by piece like mosaicists. On the same floor, in a different wing, there's the immense kitchen for preparations where one can easily get lost. In six years, the project is still not finished. Or rather, it has never stopped restarting, aligning all the levels one after the other to give back this corner of the Galleria to Milan.

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Even underground, it never ceases to live. Right under the walkway of the Galleria is the splendid cellar, the realm of Gianluca Sanso, who has been managing and evolving it for six years. There is a great emphasis on Italian excellence and the French triad of Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. In the last two years, there has been a deeper exploration of small Italian producers and absolute novelties like Transylvania.

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The upward momentum also affects the staff. Soon, those who work for Cracco will be able to say, "I live in the city center, in the Galleria." In a few months, the guest house in the attic spaces will be ready, a large and spacious area that will be available for about thirty young men and women. The current Cracco guest house is in the Solari area, which is a considerable expense for the Cracco company and inconvenient for those who need to commute. Imagine the transformation for the staff: just a flight of stairs, and you're in your room to rest or in a shared living room to relax for a moment. Cracco in the Galleria is a dizzying project, the full objective of which has never been grasped, with the aim of rebuilding the forgotten hospitality in Milan's historic center. Cracco is working for those who will come after him. He has taken over 2,000 square meters of usable space—sorry, but the number is more impactful—and made it more than livable, a testament to beauty, a transmission and a spreading of perspective.

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"After Albereta with Marchesi, I took a small restaurant in Piobesi d'Alba with very little money, the rest I did on credit. There were three of us in the kitchen, quite a shock. There was some fear. You know you can work, and after managing something big, a smaller one shouldn't be that difficult. It was Bruno Ceretto who pushed me to go to Piedmont because it was cheap there. When I told my family, they asked if I was sure. I wasn't, but I wanted to try. Then I realized I wasn't so happy in the countryside and preferred Milan because I had a bit of a myth about it. In the Langhe, everything was too slow, and many people looked at me askance. If you look now, it's full of Michelin-starred places. The goal is to see if you can make it. Then you restart."

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During that stint in Piedmont, there was already Matteo Baronetto, then seventeen years old. They worked incredibly hard. The work also allowed them to overcome psychological hurdles. Growth is never straightforward; it's always a rather rough path. Even starting from scratch is part of growth because, in the end, mistakes and hard work are part of the journey, making it bitter and spicy. If everything were sweet and comfortable, it would be boring. They tell us that Carlo is always standing at the pass, even during the day. To discuss organizational or administrative matters with him, you have to adapt—sitting is literally forbidden. He still enjoys being in the kitchen as much as he did on the first day.

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"It's not a problem to make mistakes. For the young people, it seems like the world is falling apart. In reality, it's growth. If you feel it, correction is part of the game. When they are willing and available, I always try to push the young people as far as I can. Sometimes things don't fit. When I see someone who has been here for many years and takes charge of the kitchen, for me, that's the most beautiful thing. It means they are also doing well." Matteo Baronetto was the first. He felt it. Luca Sacchi, from Abbiategrasso, is no less. For seventeen years, he's been at Carlo's court. (Just counting the times he's been mentioned by Cracco and Sacchi, it seems like the third "Cracco son" will be Mattia Mangolini.) Luca started as the third pastry chef and is now a calm leader.

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Cracco describes him as someone who hardly spoke at the beginning. But when you asked him something or gave him a task, he reacted like a sprinter. He's someone who can do multiple things at once and keep a broad horizon. During the interview, Luca weighs every word, yet there's a lightness in his eyes that, without claiming to know him, I associate with the strength of no presumption. Luca knows that sharing benefits him, that listening is the first talent for doing something truly new.

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"Valuing talent in the kitchen materializes in leveraging the collaboration of those who work with you. Mattia is my equal, a younger guy and different from me. The comparison with him acts as a bond with all the other guys in the team. If I had to rely only on myself, I would be far off. With his help, the guys come to understand that each of them is part of the result every day. And that these results require enormous effort. Our task is to make them understand that effort is necessary and that it should be lived with serenity. I insist that the kitchen should be a good place to be, because we spend almost the whole day here. The workload alone creates considerable stress. Work requires effort, you can't do anything about it, but if you do it in a serene environment that allows you not to have a stiff back all day, it's easier even for the younger ones to grow and understand the values we seek to transmit."

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This conception is the first sign of the sustainability of the entire palace. If among more than a hundred people there is no support, the project first cracks and then collapses. Within this dynamic, for several years now, the organic farm Vistamare in Santarcangelo di Romagna has also been included, taken over by Cracco and his wife when the elderly owner could no longer manage it.

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"Even though it's not very close, it's part of the project. We took it over not so much for the value of the farm, but because it's a choice, like that of the gallery, to reclaim part of a heritage to put it at the service of the entire project. There are olive trees, orchards, vineyards, and vegetable gardens. The work in the countryside never ends; we start again with each season, with each harvest. We are trying to integrate it more and more with the restaurant in Milan. Initially with juices. Then we realized that juices weren't such an important value. Therefore, the fruit is now destined for leavened products and pastry. With the fruit scraps, we recover about 15% cellulose, which we use with Favini, the producer of all the paper supports and packs for the gallery. We have already eliminated plastic from every support. We try to have the smallest possible impact, to cultivate this sensitivity."

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Research in the kitchen and the dishes

The evolution in the kitchen began after COVID. Another restart. Squared if we think about the whole building. These are moments when everything creaks, from the economic accounts to one's own identity. From there, Carlo and Luca (and Mattia) started again. From the recovery of Italian cuisine as heritage, not just to be restored but to be placed on wavelengths understandable today. For Luca, it's still in its infancy, at ground zero. Yet the Lombard root shines clearly, without it being a cage. Everything starts from the raw material of the territory, to which ideas are applied that cross the various regional impulses, from north to south, from the mountains to the coast. This is Italy, completely non-steady. Already in the autumn, there had been a revisitation of the "Gattopardo" timbale. Luca is a professor, he stays with the books. He absorbs them, filters them, transforms them.

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"I think that the research towards the past arises from my infinite passion for old cookbooks, books from the past that have a poetic and convey a huge emotion in writing and drawing. The act of cooking had to be transmitted graphically, so there was more culture. Because it required more motivation, awareness, and method in transmission." Going deep is always a steady movement. Slower, because there's more friction. Yet it pays off. The spring menu bursts with color and freshness like from an oil well. 

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The gold of Italian cuisine is there below, perhaps even under a stack of books or letters or witnesses. Read veal tongue, frogs, trout, quail, rhubarb, and strawberries. Someone would immediately tilt their head, wrinkle their nose, curl their lips. Textural shifts that lead from poverty to richness. A Lombard red thread pierced by the technique and history of the restaurant itself. The gift of the territory prevails over the personalistic idea, over the one-chef show.

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Frogs have always been eaten in the countryside outside Milan. Luca remembers them well, fried. Stuff from his hometown. That's where he started. Today they're almost gone. There's only one farm near Ravenna that preserves this heritage. Luca gets his supply right there to create one of the most sensational dishes on the new menu. The aim is to concentrate the frog in the popular preparations for which it was famous: fried and as soup. The Ricotta and Fried Frog Soup seems like a velvety soup dominated by a meatball in the center. In reality, it's a frog base whipped with buffalo ricotta, brunoise of celery, carrots, and onions, a base of pickled vegetables with gelatinized cloves, and a sphere in frog braised and whipped tempura as if they were cod, enriched with basmati rice and rind. The Lombard lowland reaches out to the east with a preparation that mixes fried with a moist part. A masterful dish. The frogs leap out of the stories and myths and return to being a memory and not imagination.

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The Lombard focus also involves the recovery of freshwater fish, still considered "uncool" compared to its cool sea cousin. Smiling, Cracco said that in Milan, the only thing missing is the sea. Perhaps because he found it in Romagna and absorbed its positive influences, in those smiles and that lightness that Romagnoli automatically exhale. Due to the transitive property, Milan often lacks these too. Cracco tries to export them to the building, like an unwritten rule, which however gives a different flavor even to the effort. Sole, green beans, radish, and vinegar bread is another excavation into tradition, the one that used lettuce leaves as a container and that of tuna salad and radishes, in which canned food was one of the few marine proteins that reached the countryside.

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Back then, people made do. Luca made an arrangement out of it, in which the lettuce is stuffed with a portion of sole and a portion of trout—soon it will be 100% trout—green beans, peas, carrots, mustard, and lemon. Once closed, it is grilled, then placed on a creamy radish fondant enriched with pickled flowers. Sweet fish with added "smoke" and earthy acidity. A dish for when you want it to feel like Sunday, at your grandparents' or wherever you like. It's the second recipe with the pickling preparation, something that was once popular and is now back in fashion at the building. To use vinegar in a way that doesn't nullify any other flavor, you need the touch of pickling. (Take it as a typo). The third dish is the Jeweled Quail, the sapling. The spring explosion. 

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The Gallery connects Piazza Duomo to Piazza della Scala. This bird could either be the celebrity looking from the balcony or the prima ballerina. First and second together, Lombard concentration, in banquet version. Rice with quail was typical of the '60s and '70s, as was the stuffing of the birds. Luca tells me about the preparation with the gaze of a hunter of complex preparations, of the serial killer of elaborate dishes. The quail is deboned and stuffed with saffron-flavored carnaroli rice, seasoned with dried apricots, sultanas, toasted almonds, vinegar, parsley, coriander, and Parmesan cheese. Then baked in the oven. 

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Just as with turmeric rice in Persia, the quail is adorned with caramelized spices such as coriander, pink pepper, and a little cumin. Finally, adorned with colorful flowers and broken coriander leaves. The quail is served at the table with a ceremony that further enhances its deliciousness and exclusive presence. "If my grandmother tasted these dishes, she would be happy not because I made them, but because they go straight to the heart of flavor, touching the most intense notes of the ingredients. For me, this is respect for cuisine, not just revisiting a recipe or offering a lighter version."

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Carlo, Luca, and Mattia have set out to bring the tradition of Italian cuisine into the future. To characterize it in the present, to re-embrace it. The defense of the diverse heritage of our peninsula has just begun. Two menus weren't enough for them, and neither will be the next ones. They have chosen a winding path, they know it. One with less selfishness and less fiction. That's where they want to walk. Thank you. In advance."

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Cracco in Galleria

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 20121 Milan MI

Phone: 02 876774


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