Metamorphosis - innovations on the go: Small Shop Episode

Metamorfosi - innovazioni on the go: Episodio Small Shop
Second episode of Metamorphosis - innovations on the go: the column created with Francesca di In Milan you can to discover contemporary sustainability trends around the city of Milan.

In this episode we focus on the tendency, even a little pushed by this period of lockdown, to re-evaluate what we have under our eyes: from small shops near the house, to places that have decided to abandon the supply chain of large retailers and rely on to a series of small producers who work with respect for the land and its products.

Milan has always been the great metropolis of Italy. A dynamic city, enjoyed in a fleeting and often careless way. The moments of tranquility paradoxically are the laps in the shopping centers or in the shopping districts, where people spend whole days between shopping and children.

And then “we will only allow work in smart working mode”. What did this sentence mean in concrete? Life has definitely become slower. Did you run in the morning to take the means? No thanks!
We also noticed a different world around us, especially the one under the house. Cap of soy and blueberry brioche, and find that you haven't eaten anything better. And to think that you had it right under the house.

We have turned our routine upside down. Home and work match, and this has allowed us to pay even greater attention to our diet. For once let's leave aside the big weekend expenses in large shopping centers (also for obvious reasons of decree) and let's try to see what the shops near the house offer us, whose fruit is perhaps produced in the garden of the house, with love and dedication.

With Carla, owner of Tipografia Alimentare, a point of reference for many on the Naviglio Martesana, we discussed neighborhood life, small producers and Cuban oregano. 

Hi Carla, today we ask you about some hot topics of sustainability, because we believe that your Food Printing House is a good example of a positive impact restaurant, from different points of view. With the lockdown, neighborhood life was rediscovered. You have chosen the Martesana as the home for your restaurant. What are the reasons behind this decision?

It was a choice dictated by the heart. My daughter Martina and I, with whom I opened the restaurant, have always lived in the area. La Martesana is a neighborhood you fall in love with. It is beautiful from an architectural point of view, but above all from a human point of view. He has given us and is giving us so much, especially in recent years.

From a human point of view, do you feel you have created a center of aggregation? Are your typical customers local people?

Yes most of them are people from the neighborhood. And this is what helped us a bit in this lockdown phase. Paradoxically, the most famous but also the most touristic clubs suffered the most this period, having been penalized by the lack of tourists. All people from the neighborhood come to us. There is a bit of a generational change during the day, but still in the neighborhood.

Have you noticed a change in customers, also in terms of habits, between before and after the lockdown?

I will tell you, since we had the concession of the municipality to arrange some tables along the Martesana canal, many people who did not know us have had the opportunity to get closer to our world. Many become regular customers, others maybe not because of the radical choice we made of eliminating the industrial product and working the raw material little.

Going back to this last point, one of the trends that emerged in this period is "support the neighborhood small shops". You have led the way from this point of view, selecting small producers for your raw materials.

We fell in love with a number of small producers that we know from time to time. We do a capillary work of selection of raw materials, not relying in fact on large retailers. We establish direct relationships with all our producers. We all know them personally, creating relationships that are so to speak familiar. It is certainly more tiring than relying on a representative who provides you with all the products, but in terms of satisfaction and relationships established it is certainly better.

Although Milan is a fast, dynamic city, where if you think about it it is complex to take the time to select the products you need, you have opted for a slower choice. 

It was a slow process, with a lot of hesitation, but in the end this choice is paying off. The returning customer is because he appreciates our choice: from the selection of totally natural wines to the food and its minimal processing. 

What prompted you to open Tipografia Alimentare, and to give it this direction of experiencing food in a slower way? 

My daughter Martina, who opened the place with me, attended Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences. It has embraced those values of living a direct relationship with the earth, respecting its role and what it offers us.  

The choice of what to offer on the menu also impressed us a lot. The bulk apple juice we're drinking right now is an out-of-the-box choice. You cannot find this type of drink around, unless it is a product of large retailers. Keeping in mind this return to the past in the selection and proposal of dishes, what do you think are the challenges that a restaurant that looks to the future will have to face between now and post 2020?  

Respect. Learn to respect the people you collaborate with, the producers you get your supplies from, the land that offers you the products. To say a banality on this last point, we in the kitchen do not have a stove, if not an oven. This means that the raw material we have is very little processed.  

We were reading the menu and ingredients we didn't know existed came to our attention. 

Yes, it's true! It is a rather special menu. At the base there is the desire to introduce our customers to new and close-at-hand products. Farinaccio for example. It is a kind of wild spinach. Or amaranth, which is a cereal. Amaranth leaves are usually used for tea, but it is also a great substitute for pasta. Then there is sumac, an inflorescence brought to Sicily by the Arabs.

What about Cuban oregano?

Daniele, the vegetable producer we get our supplies from, made us discover it. He gave us some plants for our outdoor area, and among them was a plant that we had never seen before. To the eye and to the touch it looks like a succulent plant. He explained to us that it is an aromatic herb widely used in the Caribbean. 

Last question. How do you imagine the future of Milan, both in terms of sustainability and new trends in general?

In my opinion, Milan has already started on the right path. I simply hope that this sustainable evolution continues. More space for pedestrians. More space for bicycles, as is already happening in this splendid stretch of the Martesana. I also hope for an evolution of sustainability from a human point of view. I imagine a Milan that is increasingly meeting young people and their aggregation, seeing it less as a nuisance. A Milan that gives more space to the weak, discouraging marginalization. The Milanese have always shown good will to change things, which is why I believe that one can easily approach and acquire virtuous behavior for the benefit of the whole community.