Interview & photography by Albert Rano
As Contributing Editor, I recently visited Casa Masi in the heart of Tuscany and had lunch with the owner, Lorenzo Masi and spoke about family, importance of tradition and also why Baccalà is a part of it.
Albert Rano (AR) — What is the story of Casa Masi?
Lorenzo Masi (LM) — Casa Masi was born almost “for fun”, from a dream in the drawer of our father, who used to love good food. We had this house in the countryside, where our grandmother was born at the beginning of the last century; it was shabby and certainly not suitable for hosting a restaurant, but our parents obviously saw something … It was 1991, it took 5 years to get permits for renovation. Imagine? Everyone was considering them reckless: a remote place, such a drastic change of life, such a big project… but despite everything, here we are. Back then, my sister and I were less than 10 years old, but now we continue the path that our parents started, hoping to live up to it and to do a good job!
(AR) — What is the inspiration behind your menu?
(LM) — The inspiration behind our menus is our mother (who is a great cook!), and the Tuscan gastronomic tradition, the authentic one, that treasure handed down through the generations of a family, the one made up of simple ingredients, very often poor, and of true and genuine flavors, the flavors and aromas that can bring back to childhood.
There are so many Italian culinary traditions, for those who are not Italian it is difficult to understand that every area, city, small village or even a single family has its own traditions: think of the variety of cheese (a thousand of types), of cured meats, of the types of pasta (that even we Italians don’t know so well!) or bread, and I could go on forever.
Furthermore, being able to invent new dishes, such as our famous Gramigna with pecorino, the Tagliatelle of chickpea flour with asparagus, or the mythical fried Fiorentina, while trying to keep the “rules” of the Tuscan tradition, is also our greatest commitment.
(AR) — Are your ingredients local? Does your menu change with the season?
(LM) — The search for the freshest, most genuine and strictly local ingredients is our most important commitment. The outcomes are balanced menus that change along with the seasons. In autumn, for example, the San Miniato White Truffle is the protagonist, flanked by many game recipes, legume soups and lots of cabbage! In spring, on the other hand, artichokes, asparagus and traditional Easter recipes such as the “lamb on the artichokes”.
When the seasonal ingredient comes to an end, we change the menu and we enjoy crafting new ones.
(AR) — How important is tradition in your restaurant and in your menu?
(LM) — Tradition is a very important aspect in our work, it is the guideline that defines us. It is very stimulating, as I said above, to go and find recipes that have been forgotten and bring them back under the “limelight”, and then observe the reaction of the guests when they taste it… of amazement, many times.
I believe that the success of Casa Masi lies, in addition to the kitchen, in the fact that it is “home”. It is a real place, which expresses our whole being.
People who come to eat or even to spend a few days must feel at home. And then we strive not to neglect any detail, from the furniture details to the garden care.
(AR) — You mentioned an interesting story. Why was Baccalà such an important fish in Tuscan cuisine decades ago?
(LM) — There is a proverb that says “There is no Lent without Baccalà” and in fact, in a period when meat is banned, there is no better food to set the table.
According to the Christian tradition, in the days before Easter, no big sins of gluttony are allowed, and you can only eat simple and low-fat foods to remember Christ’s forty days of fasting.
Especially after the war; It was the grandmothers’ task to cook and I to shop for the whole family, and Baccalà was a “poor” fish, so we traditionally report all its inland versions that have been handed down to us. Baccalà is the only fish that has always been part of Casa Masi’s cuisine.
(AR) —What do you believe is the main driving force for your success? What are you doing differently?
(LM) — There are many factors in the success of Casa Masi, the ones that lead customers to say “Casa Masi is a Guarantee”. I found myself in my hands a small jewel, already well underway, and I did nothing but bring us everything that reflects my generation, I’ve enriched the wine list, we have a bar that serves good cocktails, I worked on the social media and I’ve put all my personality into it, I love being a host.
(AR) — How important is it to make your guests feel like home?
(LM) — Already from the name “Casa Masi”, you can understand how important this concept is: our father was a master in this, it was almost his mission. I remember that before the era of tablets and tmartphones ,when on a Sunday there were the football matches or Formula 1 races, my father used to open the salon of our house right above the restaurant, and all our customers were joining to drink a grappa and to watch the TV, with the children playing in the garden, and wives who stayed to chat with my mom. It is an important thing that left us, it is the love for this work, the respect and the good manners; he was at times a stiff father, and unfortunately we lost him too soon, but I thank him and my mom today for the man I became today.
Baccalà al Vin Santo e Fiori Fritti
One slice of Baccalà
Oil (extra virgin olive oil)
An excellent Vinsanto wine
Put the raisins in the vin santo for a few hours.
Bread the cod, and fry it with a little oil and rosemary in a pan.
When it is crispy, remove the oil and set the pan back on the burn, with the Vinsanto and the raisins.
Arrange on a plate and serve with the fried zucchini flower. (salt to taste the zucchini flower)
Visit Casa Masi