From Modena to Tuscany: Valentino Cassanelli on fine-dining simplicity and preserving rare produce at Lux Lucis
Valentino Cassanelli is the chef of michelin-starred restaurant Lux Lucis in Forte dei Marmi. Hailing from Modena, he has condensed his work experience – ranging from Nobu to Locanda Locatelli and Cracco in its heyday – into a refined yet extravagant menu. “The Modenese food is powerful but slow at the same time. The Tuscan way is rich, strong and direct. My kitchen is a mix of that.”
Cassanelli is known for working extremely closely with the sommelier and restaurant manager Sokol Ndreko. “He’s been here since the beginning. The wine for us is not just a pairing, it’s an ingredient that you eat and drink. If you see it as just a pairing, it’s less than what it is in reality. If it’s too acidic, it can destroy an elegant plate. Or it’s the opposite: a plate can cover the wine and then you can’t feel it. It depends on the plate; sometimes it can even clean your mouth before the next course, or push it forward.”
Though this research is done mostly with wine, Lux Lucis shares an open space with the hotel’s rooftop bar 67 Sky Lounge. “The bartender helps us make good pairings too. You can’t see it as an ingredient of course because a cocktail is a cocktail, but it can be the right way to understand a plate, which is our ultimate goal.”
This year the team took Lux Lucis to the beach, doing a weekend pop-up at their hotel’s beach club Dalmazia. To do that, they built a brand new impressive kitchen, and even when the pop-up isn’t happening you can still enjoy some of the chef’s most iconic dishes including the award-winning pasta Spaghettoni with Anchovies, Water of Burrata Cheese, Umeboshi and Caviar. “It’s pasta with anchovies, so it’s a classic in Italy. What we do is a broth of anchovies, in a similar style to the Brodo di Gò in Venice,” which is made with a tiny local fish called Ghiozzo, known as Gò. “Then we take a whole anchovy, we cook it and blend it so the flavour is really intense. We add umeboshi to give acidity and a saltiness, and the katsuobushi for the smoked part. Finally burrata water, ‘the Italian touch’. It’s the fresh and comfortable part of the dish. We top it with caviar to give further saltiness. It’s complex but very immediate and simple to the palate.” The renowned Guida Espresso voted it Pasta of the Year.
Cassanelli is a chef with a conscience, which is not necessarily the most common trait in the business, but he’s also very determined and pushes his kitchen to evolve day by day. He talks with passion of the Pastinocello di Seravezza, an ancient white carrot, and the producer who is still growing it for the university, to keep the seeds. “But nobody used or ate it, because it’s a bit harder, not perfect, grown in the high mountains at the back of Versilia. So we decided to use this because we don’t want to lose these kinds of people or their produce. We take care, we buy it, and we give the customers something that they can only eat here.”
The same happens with other ingredients such as flour. “We can use a small quantity of good flour to make really good bread. It’s good not just for us to grow but also for the territory. Simple things like bread represent all the people working here. Then, if I sell a lot of bread, they can make more flour and the territory benefits from it.”
When asked about his hometown, which is now one of the world’s most talked-about cities for food thanks to the spotlight cast upon it by superstar chef Massimo Bottura, he smiles: “I’m surprised, but then not at all. Modena has a great food culture so it has every reason to be so high in the estimation of food experts and fans.”
Lux Lucis – literally “light of light” in Latin – has a bright future ahead. “We try to represent the territory, starting from the roots, and that’s our direction going forward. We work on the simplicity of the fish and the food to enhance the taste. People want a different experience when they go out, so we try to give it to them in every plate, from the simplest to the most difficult. We want to work more on simplicity but in a fine-dining way.”
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina/Lido Vannucchi
Video: Filippo L’Astorina/Laura Denti
To book a table at Lux Lucis, Hotel Principe Forte dei Marmi viale Ammiraglio E Morin 67 Italy, visit the restaurant’s website here.