4Pietro Leemann, chef and founder of the Joia in Milan – Europe’s first Michelin Star vegetarian restaurant and unique in Italy – extinguishes 30 candles of a unique gastronomic success of its kind.
by Stefania Buscaglia
Thirty years have passed. It was September 29, 1989 when a young Swiss-born chef chose Milan to open a restaurant with a strongly evocative name: “Joia”. A creative bistrot, based courageously on the concept of gourmet vegetarian cuisine and under the sign of ethics and culture, in an age where awareness and gastronomic knowledge were certainly not as widespread as in the current period.
It was September 29, 1989 when Pietro Leemann gave birth to the project that we now know as “Alta Cucina Naturale” and that, in less than a decade, led him to be the first Michelin Star vegetarian restaurant in Europe and, again, the only one in Italy.
A deserved success that, thirty years after its genesis, continues to evolve, presenting the cuisine of chef Leemann as an exemplary model of high gastronomy of quality, refinement and spirituality.
Born in 1961 and originally from the Canton of Ticino, Pietro Leemann perceives the irresistible call of the Kitchen at the age of 15: a reminder that guides him through the necessary apprenticeships in the Swiss land and then leads him into the inevitable cradle of Gourmet gastronomy, France. In the mid-80s he has the privilege of entering the kitchens of Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi and it is always in the same period that that process of awareness begins that will lead him to “to live a life where to recognize himself”; he definitely converts to vegetarianism, he travels and comes into contact with new oriental cultures and philosophies, especially Chinese, Japanese and Indian. And if the second half of the 80s represents the phase of the rebirth of the new Leemann, it’s in that decade that the time seems to be ripe for giving shape and substance to his project. A project dedicated not only to vegetarians, but to anyone who wants to approach a cuisine that is good, that touches soul and mind and satisfies the taste. Or, more simply, to anyone who chooses to eat well. Very well.
About his dishes it is essential to recite the taste that, without prejudice to the anthroposophical aspect of the creations, represents one of the central aspects of Joia’s cuisine: a taste capable of oscillating between interesting contrasts in which flavors, textures and temperatures always coexist in harmonic recipes: how not to mention the iconic “Di non solo pane vive l’uomo”, a revisited panzanella in which a ball of bread covered with a perfect dot of crunchy vegetables encloses a heart of wasabi-scented cannellini beans and is accompanied by colors and contrasts of a vegetable mayonnaise with saffron, raspberry and parsley chlorophyll. Or the soups, with which the chef Leemann drops the ace and conquers the diner through adrenaline-filled shocks of pleasure, given by incessant contrasts of taste and temperature: don’t miss “Fratello Luna”, a gazpacho of date tomatoes and strawberry, with beetroot mayonnaise, watermelon grattachecca, miso marinated daikon and harissa. Colorful and playful dishes in which the research and the vision of approach to the vegetal element remain unique: exciting is the reverent homage to Gualtiero Marchesi, in which the iconic dripping of the Master of High Italian Cuisine accompanies a crunchy tempura called “La titanica forza del bene”. Evocative titles that express how much art and culture live within the walls of the Joia, in all their forms: it is not by chance that Pietro Leemann has chosen to celebrate the thirtieth birthday of his restaurant in a day of celebration in which different forms of artistic expression – from food to music, from poetry to literature (with the presentation of the eleventh book of the Chef) will spell moments of pure emotion, shared with those who have always taken part in this special adventure. An adventure of pure “Joia”.
Photo credits © Lucio Elio