«Regardless of the place of birth or residence, you can become Mediterranean. Because Mediterranean style is not inherited, but is achieved. It is a decision, not an advantage. They say that there are fewer and fewer true Mediterranean. But not only history or tradition, the past or geography, memory or faith have to do with it: the Mediterranean is also destiny ". So he wrote Predrag Matvejević in that masterpiece of Mediterranean patent, a book that is many things together, to be read in one breath. And for some this fate is inauspicious, as the International Mediterranean Day, which has been celebrated since 2014 July 8. But fortunately there are also those who celebrate this sea every day, such as the Mediterranean collective by chef Marco Ambrosino.
Why celebrate International Mediterranean Day
There are several international days dedicated to something, so much so that we almost get to talk about it with irony. But this time it is not like this: Mediterranean Day is more important than others, since it involves a series of fundamental, human, social, geopolitical and environmental aspects. First of all, it was called to remember the migrants who lost their lives in this sea and unfortunately continue to lose it, as well as fishermen and sailors who work in the Mediterranean. But this day is also an opportunity to dwell on other problems, such as pollution, climate change and fish exploitation. Let's not forget, in fact, that the Mediterranean is one of the seas with the largest number of species there is, but never represented in abundance. And this is the heart and value of its wealth and biodiversity. For this reason it is right that among the most involved on the front line there are i cooks, which by making different choices such as the use of different fish in the kitchen can, in their small way, stimulate greater awareness on these issues. This is the path taken by chef Marco Ambrosino of the 28 places in Milan, who founded the Mediterranean Collective on these premises, then also involving other experts, such as gastronomes, anthropologists, musicians, architects, photographers, and so on. Because the Mediterranean is … many, a thousand things all together. But if one writes about the Mediterranean, he always has personal reasons for doing it.
I start again from Procida
Marco Ambrosino is lucky, because he was born and raised in a place where the Mediterranean feels in all its essence: Procida, one of the islands most linked to the sea. Here Marco grows up in a family that teaches him first of all respect. Respect for the sea, winds, fish, seasons, flowers, fruits, trees, plants, herbs, tomatoes, donkeys, aubergines and trees, synthesis of this sea, almost like people. In short, everything the Mediterranean overflows with. The first current that learns in the kitchen is that of the blancmange, as simple food was called in procidano, the one made with the catch of the day, often anchovies and shrimps, seasonal vegetables, poultry (remember that the islands are always also land). And then of course lemons, characteristic of this island, which differ from all the others by being giants, with a huge albedo; in Procida they are also eaten in salad, Marco tells us, only with oil, salt, mint and fresh garlic. Well he grows up here, in this simplicity, far from praised, but fully lived and appreciated; here, overlooking the sea, between the marina of Marina di Corricella, where there are no cars and only on foot or by sea, and the former prison, another strong symbol of the island, guardian of an important piece of history of Procida, and therefore of the Mediterranean. So Marco begins to feel that he belongs to something bigger than himself, to feel tied in some way to other countries that face the same sea, such as Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, Spain, Slovenia, Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Cyprus , Lebanon, Croatia, Egypt, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Malta, Morocco, Montenegro. Because as long as we are at sea we forget the differences, and then remember them once we get ashore. "The Mediterranean Collective was created precisely to spread the various cultures of these countries, the importance of safeguarding the seas, promoting ethical fishing and sustainable agriculture, through the world of food".
What is the Mediterranean Collective
How many things are we likely to forget when we try to define it? This, perhaps, could be the risk we run trying to want to frame the Mediterranean Collective too rigidly. The Mediterranean Collective, in fact, is by its nature many things. It is a project, a group of people who know each other a little and not a virtual meeting place, an agglomeration of stories, a connector of ideas, a sharing of pleasures. In short, it is like the Mediterranean: Apollonian and Dionysian. Of course, among the various purposes, there is the desire to reconstruct the historical memory of this sea, its traditions and the peoples who have passed through it. Also because in Mediterranean countries, as that genius of Fernand Braudel writes in another unmissable masterpiece that is The Mediterranean, "Every invader, every domination, has left its own trace, still legible today, without however making a clean slate or unifying in depth". All the more so in this historical period, where talking about this sea becomes a political issue, a partisan choice. But how is it possible, continues Braudel, that "for three or four millennia migrations have made history and above all the unity of the Mediterranean, while today they threaten to undo it?" Any attempt at "ethnic cleansing" on the Mediterranean is absurd and inhuman, because here the bloodlines and tribes have always met, mixed and merged . And the Collective wants to tell and give voice to this multiculturalism, taking a position and telling through the kitchen the experiences of women and men who have built our history as inhabitants of the Mediterranean. And remember through dialogue, comparison, sharing and dissemination that this is the sea of proximity, the Mare Nostrum, as the Romans called it. This is why Marco has decided to do it together with other people who have the same sensitivity, that is, who have these issues at heart and who, like him, see in diversity an added value and a resource.
How to become part of the Collective
In the Mediterranean we always meet. In fact, the Mediterranean is never a sea of solitude. Thus the Collective, which etymologically means precisely "that gathers, concerns or interests a plurality of people" has welcomed and opened the doors to various experts, from different backgrounds, united for the same cause. There is the former 28-seat sommelier, now at Bicerin, Roman Iris, also from Procida, who makes us travel by telling us about Moscato, the only wine that unites the whole Mediterranean, from France to Pantelleria, up to the Lebanese mountains. There is Roberto Vetromile, great passionate and profound connoisseur of the world of herbs, thanks to which we discover all the properties of various plants: for example, did you know that mastic is one of the most common shrubs in Mediterranean landscapes? Then from Sicily, the island in the middle of the Mediterranean, a very young voice, that of Davide Guidara, chef of the Hotel Romano Palace in Catania, who has already made a name for himself, his immense culture and his skill in the kitchen. Or again, Fabio Tammaro, from Campania to the Officina del Sapore in Verona, but always with the same belief: to enhance the most unknown fish, wrongly considered poor. But what would the Mediterranean be without music? He thinks about this Osvaldo Di Dio, great musician, guitarist and composer, today part of the band of Cristiano De André, together with an infinity of other respectable collaborations, always with the Mediterranean (and his Procida) inside. "When the Mediterranean emigrates it brings with it its smells, its spices, its guitars and a host of cousins". And then, obviously, Marco's life partner could not miss: Simona Castagliuolo, who knows what we are talking about, being originally from Ischia, the oldest Greek-based island in the Mediterranean. But these are just some of the names that are part (for now) of the Collective, because remember that here the doors are always open and the rule of adding a seat at the table applies. Only 28 remain in his restaurant!
"Through the traditions, recipes, products, producers, music and other expressions of sociality we will tell the story and future of the largest port on the planet: the Mediterranean".