Manna | Milano
Mincing guts over words, chef Matteo Fronduti is a straight-talking dude who gets his kicks by taking tough meat and strong flavors and making them obey.
The perfect situation for a Tom Rebl zip up mini, fitted top, light bomber jacket, and a red lip, I was ready to meet Chef Matteo Fronduti.
A true O.G. (Original gangster), this chef isn’t messing around. Matteo follows his own rules in his restaurant, Manna, with respect for classic dishes and methods but Fronduti doesn’t front. He recounts what it’s really like to be a chef and explains his fascination with simple ingredients and offal (internal organs) with the language of a poet. With his spare time spent on a motorcycle, and a taste for old-school hip-hop, his style is raw and his culinary techniques incredibly refined. Like his dishes, there are no tricks involved, but there is a lot to discover.
CGC: What about your cooking style reflects you as a person?
MF: I decided to do here, at Manna, what I personally like since it is my place and I do what I like and what I want. It is simple in terms of the ingredients but when the plate gets to you, I don’t want you to have to intellectualize it to understand it. You shouldn’t have to close your eyes and force yourself to understand what you’ve just put in your mouth. You should know, violently, what it is right away. The research involved to give this feigned effect of simplicity is to prepare the dish in a way that distinguishes the ingredients. For example, cime di rapa, horseradish, and smoked herring, three ingredients that have a really strong character that when they are manipulated in a certain way brings these characteristics out, that usually by themselves has a violent and unpleasant taste but when put together are in harmony – it’s like a brawl without a death.
CGC: What do you like about cooking in general?
MF: There isn’t one thing I like more than the other, you have to like everything about cooking to do it – everything. You have to like to wake up early to go down to the fish market, to be on your feet all day, you have to like being in the heat, you have to like pairing things and be able to say “wow, that’s bad-ass, I want that.” If there is some aspect of cooking you don’t like, you will not like this job, you have to like everything.
CGC: So you go down to the fish market yourself in the mornings? How often?
MF: Yep – once a week. You’ve got to see first-hand what products your producers have. It’s convenient to do your ordering by email but it’s not enough to control the quality.
CGC: Do you have a favorite ingredient?
MF: One ingredient, per se, no. I like things that have been abandoned, gone out of style, aren’t cool enough or simply just difficult to cook like with this project I’m doing with Eugenio. We’re trying to make “cool” what are considered the most disgusting ingredients, livers, balls, ears. Like what we did with the calf’s head, it’s a classic recipe that I bet 90% of the people in their 30’s have no idea what it is. So basically everything that has been forgotten. These are all ingredients that need to be used.
CGC: Is there a flavor profile you prefer?
MF: Bitter, sour - all the flavors that are more difficult, the adult flavors, I like to mix them and see if I can make something rough, taste good without being condescending.
CGC: What is the future of Italian cuisine?
MF: I have great doubts at this time because the Italian cuisine and cooking is insanely overexposed and as with anything that is overexposed it is risky because after while the public gets tired of it and without a solid base of the right techniques and training to continue to keep it going, tomorrow the bubble will burst and deflate everything. It’s great that the general public is so interested in cooking right now, as we are in the business it’s great for us, but it’s got to be managed in a way that is more realistic. From everything people see on TV they don’t understand that you can’t take an hour to create a dish. It’s entertainment for those who are not professionals, other than maybe “Hell’s Kitchen” where you see a little more. Look at Carlo Cracco, for whom I have the highest esteem, he’s capitalizing on the times but people forget he has 30 years experience in the kitchen and a Michelin star behind him.
CGC: We hear you’re a motorbike guy, so what is your favorite moto?
MF: I buy what I like, but I wanted something that is good to get around in and also fun, right now I have a Yamaha FZ8.
CGC: If you could cook for anyone in the world who would it be?
MF: You know who comes into eat here a lot is Roy Paci, when he’s in Milan.
CGC: Who’s your favorite musician or type of music?
MF: In the kitchen I don’t listen to music and talk very little but in terms of music I listen to outside of the kitchen, I like hip-hop - but the older stuff like, Dr. Dre., Cypress Hill, Tupac, Public Enemy, and Eminem’s early stuff.
CGC: What is something people should know about you?
MF: I’m a bad person.
CGC: What? Why!?
MF: Because I am not at all politically correct.
CGC: Any upcoming projects/collaborations?
MF: The collaboration I did with Eugenio with Noodle Bar last year in December was cool. You know that in Milan it’s hard to find something good to eat after hours, you might find a shit sandwich or something, but for us who work late there isn’t much So we decided to do a dinner for the cooks, the barmen, the dealers, the waiters, and everybody who works these hours but wants to eat good food. We organized a dinner that was done in the most old-school way possible, heavy food that your grandma cooks, €25 – all you can eat, no reservations, like a party. We did a little bit of publicity for it on social media but not a lot. I get a call from Eugenio like 30 minutes before, at 11:30pm while I was still working, asking if he could start a little earlier because people were already there. I was like "a couple of people, like how many?" Apparently, so many people showed up they were blocking blocking the entrance and spilling out onto the street. Ah yes. I get there 45 minutes later, and within an hour of opening – everything was gone – done. 140 people. Done. We had people eating out of to-go containers with chopsticks. It was fun. However, we just did another event a week ago, called Sunday Bloody Sunday but this time, with reservations and waiters.
CGC: What do you like to do in your spare time?
MF: On my day off I do not bring my computer home and I turn off my phone, so a day off is really a day off. I usually grab my helmet and jump on my bike. Most of the time, at night after work, around 1:30-2:00am I don’t even go home because I’ll get home and you can’t just switch off after this kind of work, so I’ll watch some TV, smoke a cigarette then have to come back again.
There are a couple of places in Milan that stay open late, hole-in-the wall places, like this one in 25 Aprile that closes at 5am where you can meet up with the other people that work the same late hours, you know, waiters, bartenders, drug-dealers, chefs…
"There’s a lot of people who say they love cooking that may just be in love with the idea of cooking."
CGC: What designer would you have make an Executive Chef’s uniform?
MF: I think a chef’s uniform should be traditional – what it is. White double breasted uniform. In reality you can cook in whatever you want but a chef’s uniform has to meet the needs of a chef and that is difficult to do.