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Luca's Phenomenon: Michelin 5-Star Chef Paulo Airaudo's Cuisine Enchants Florence

Alessandra Meldolesi
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In the heart of Florence, La Gemma hotel, nestled like an emerald among Renaissance palaces, welcomes the cuisine of internationally acclaimed chef Paulo Airaudo, interpreted by two young apprentices. The result is a celebration of taste and colors, perfectly calibrated to the receptive format.

Photo by Lorenzo Noccioli

The hotel and gourmet offering of Paulo Airaudo

San Sebastian is a city where gourmets suffer from an overwhelming array of options: for decades, one of the world's most important gastronomic congresses has been held here, and it was from here that a generation of remarkable Basque chefs launched their assault on the culinary heavens, including Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana, who sowed their descendants when Spanish cuisine was still in its infancy. Surprisingly, an Argentine chef, Paulo Airaudo, has also made his mark here, holding two shining stars from Amelia.

Paulo Airaudo Alex Stephen Teuscher
@Alex Stephen Teuscher

But he boasts just as many from Noi in Hong Kong and one from Aleia in Barcelona, ​​plus another 11 establishments scattered between Miami and Buenos Aires. A globetrotting cuisine, which has led him to declare: "Wherever I am a stranger, that's why I can be myself." Having passed through the workshops of Heston Blumenthal, Juan Mari Arzak, and our Alberto Faccani, Airaudo, who has Piedmontese parents, loves to shuffle cards and maps: his, says Michelin, is a grand cuisine that creatively blends Basque fundamentals with Oriental and Italian touches.

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And Italy plays a role in his professional biography: after an initial Tuscan stint at Borgo di Santo Pietro, Airaudo landed in the city of the lily thanks to the endorsement of General Manager Laura Stopani and the trust placed in her by the Cecchi family, who opened a new hotel in the heart of the city, green as an emerald.

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Luca s La Gemma bar 2

Exactly one year after its opening, the table's test does not disappoint. Aesthetic, color, cleanliness, and recognizability of the ingredients, always intact and centered, dominate in a reflective and joyful cuisine, perfectly calibrated to the hotel sector, which bows with a smile to the patterns and rituals of the classic meal. Ecumenical without descending into banality thanks to a programmatic lightness, made of pleasantly liquid sauces and fatigue-reducing acidity, which gradually give way to substance.

The kitchen 

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The kitchen credit also goes to the two young apprentices, whom Airaudo entrusted with materializing his ideas: Tommaso Querini and Olivia Cappelletti, both thirty-five years old, already by his side at the starred restaurant in Geneva. Tommaso, after scientific studies in Florence, enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu. "Since I always enjoyed eating well, I thought: let's try this course!" And the bet was won, since after La Cucineria, he found himself at the Bottega of the Argentinian chef, immediately placed in charge of the pasta section and then as chef of the Swiss bistro.

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Returning home as sous chef of Leggenda dei Frati, he was recalled by Airaudo, who proposed that role of chef, which he would share with a longtime friend. Olivia, on her part, after graduating as a surveyor and three years of law studies, attended a course at CAST Alimenti, before working at the Bottega del Buon Caffè, with Airaudo in Geneva and at the Menagère, waiting for the same, fateful phone call.

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The Argentine chef oversees each menu change but is in constant contact with the two residents, interchangeable and equal, for dish trials and more. "The menu is all his work: a creative international cuisine, backed by a lot of research and many ideas, always direct, easily interpreted, for everyone," assures Olivia. "Precisely because we know it well, we are able to reproduce it, even though over time it has shifted from Nordic influences to Eastern influences."

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Luca s La Gemma bar 4

It is up to the two of them, instead, to source the best raw materials, mostly locally. The tasting menus come in two options: a 4-course blind menu or an 8-course menu, priced at 115 and 175 euros respectively. Accompanying them is a wine list featuring around a hundred labels, overseen by restaurant manager Vito Angelilli.

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The dishes

The debut always features a liquid dish, following both classical and oriental schools: in this case, a shared artichoke consommé with Amelia, made from the whole vegetable with chicken or vegetable broth (for vegetarians), plus cold-pressed oil from lemon zest and vanilla berries for a long lasting sweetness. Then, two Italian samplings: the faux Mortadella ice cream cone with pistachio bits and the ultra-fine tartlet of lobster claw seasoned with red shrimp extract, basil oil, and burrata foam. The tone changes with the oyster, served raw with Champagne sauce, osetra caviar, dill, and gold leaf, on a base of dashi jelly, which concludes the welcome sequence playing on the rituals of luxury.

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It almost seems like ceviche, but it's actually our local amberjack sashimi, seasoned with roasted kombu seaweed and Maldon salt, then arranged in a rose with daikon cured in salt to adjust texture, dotted with spicy ume kosho, garnished with pickled white kombu seaweed, and drizzled with fennel water colored with red onions and umeboshi, for a light rosy chromatism. A second crystal-clear, fatigue-reducing liquid.

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The red prawns are beautifully dressed with oil, salt, and lime on the plate with citrus gel, gel, brunoise, and red turnip powder, a wave of crème fraîche with dill oil that enlivens the dish, changing in front of the guest like a cloud, again following the milky/fishy scheme.

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Then the substance and the taste grow progressively, starting with the buttons stuffed with Taleggio cheese and potatoes, seasoned with Vin Jaune reduction beurre blanc for the oxidative hint, plus oyster leaf and barbecued razor clams for color, texture, and mineral notes.

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Next are the pigeon cappelletti, almost unidimensional, that is actually a first course of the bird, where the filling is obtained from the legs cooked in red wine and beef broth, with the corresponding jus and butter sauce.

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The monkfish is lightly floured, cooked at low temperature, and finished in a hot pan for searing almost to the fumé limit; served on the plate with grilled mussel, broccoli tops, Jerusalem artichoke in cream and lemongrass consommé, finished with yuzu kosho oil.

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Then the second course of the pigeon, cooked in carcass at low temperature and then pan-finished, served with its jus, white onion cream, black garlic, pickled onion, scallion oil, and barbecue maitake mushroom with duck fat and lard, with intriguing textures.

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For the cheese at the end of the meal, there is the French goat cheese "flan" with honey wafer and sweet potato caramel, obtained from the processing of the tuber yet firm.

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The dessert ends with tone-on-tone Jerusalem artichoke in blown skin and natural cream, for the sweet step with white chocolate ice cream and its powder, pistachio crumble, and almond air.

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La Gemma Hotel - Luca's

Via Dei Cavalieri 2C, 50123,  Florence (IT)

EMAIL: info@lagemmahotel.com

Hotel phone: +39 055 0105200


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