Good, Clean, Fair & Accessible: Le Tavole Accademiche

One would expect that a school called the University of Gastronomic Sciences would have a pretty excellent dining hall. But since we arrived at the end of November, my Master class has been resigned to brown-bagging last night’s leftovers or nibbling on focaccia from the local panetteria during our lunch breaks — we were stuck in the down period between the closing of the University’s old mensa (cafeteria) and the launch of a new project called Le Tavole Accademiche — the Academic Tables.

Photo by Marcello Marengo

Photo by Marcello Marengo

That all changed on January 28th. Announced in December and launched last week, Le Tavole Accademiche’s goal is to unite education, excellent cooking, fair costs, and local products. Located on campus in the spacious brick-studded dining room of the former Michelin-starred restaurant Da Guido, the mensa is open to all students an staff from 12:00PM to 2:00PM Monday through Friday, offering a different antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce each day, including options for vegetarians and celiacs.

What sets Le Tavole Accademiche apart from other mensas is its rotating roster of internationally-renowned chefs and the challenges it presents them with. Each week, a new chef takes helm over the kitchen — the head count includes representatives from nine different nations, with 21 Michelin stars among them, and well-known names like Alice Waters and Ferran Adrià. They work with the four UNISG chefs (former students Jacqueline Blazer and Maya Sfair, and Lapo Querci, supervised by Braidese Beppe Barbero of Osteria Boccon Divino) to produce plates that respect Slow Food’s principles (Good, Clean, & Fair food) with a maximum primary food cost of less than 5€ per menu per person. The chefs make use of quality local products in their dishes and aim to prepare balanced meals at portions that are appropriate for lunch. The project is also dedicated to reducing food waste: students must reserve their meals 24 hours in advance, and the kitchen only cooks the number of dishes reserved. If there are leftovers (because a student doesn’t make it to the mensa for their reserved lunch), the chefs sell them after lunchtime in “Doggy Bags” to take home.

According to the University (in translation), “Thanks to the Academic Tables, students experience their lunch break not just as a moment of nourishing themselves, but also as an opportunity of education, sensible to the concepts of quality and environmental, social, and economic sustainability.”

The week-old project has been getting a lot of press here in Italy, with reporters from the major Italian newspapers, La Stampa and La Reppublica, visiting to snap photos and do reconnaissance.

Photo from La Repubblica. Me, Aless, Sarah and Julie watch Chef Davide Scabin prepare an amuse bouche.

Photo from La Repubblica. Me, Aless, Sarah and Julie (and another dude) watch Chef Davide Scabin prepare an amuse bouche.

Thanks to my Fulbright-furnished lunch plan, I am lucky enough to take my lunch break at Le Tavole Accademiche most days of the week. Last week, Chef Davide Scabin of Combal.Zero in Rivoli — an avant-garde, detail-focused 2 Michelin star restaurant — prepared my meals. Here are some photos and thoughts about what I ate for lunch:

Guinea Hen on a bed of scorched herbs

Faraona impanata al camino con patate in tripla cottura, mayowasabi
Breaded spit-grilled guinea fowl with triple-cooked potatoes and wasabi mayo

I kicked off the week with an Italian spin on fried chicken and French fries: a juicy and flavorful breaded breast of guinea hen with crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside potato wedges, served on a bed of fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage that Chef Scabin scorched with a torch just before serving. The wasabi mayo was the only disappointment, as it didn’t have as much zing as I was expecting it to.

Sedanini pasta with Broccoli Raab

Sedanini alle cime di rapa e patate con cialde di pane alla mediterranea
Sedanini with broccoli rabe, potatoes and Mediterranean-style bread-dough wafers

I went vegetarian on Tuesday (I try to only eat meat a few times a week) with sedanini (“little celery stalks”) pasta coated in vibrant broccoli rabe, one of my favorite vegetables. This broccoli rabe wasn’t very bitter, and it clung to the pasta’s ridges nicely with the help of some good extra virgin olive oil. The bread crisps added some needed crunch.

Cous Cous with Ratatouille, Green Curry, and Veal Meatballs

Cous cous speziato con ratatouille e curry verde di polpettine di fassona
Couscous with ratatouille and green curry with veal meatballs

Wednesday’s meal was my favorite: this couscous was sweet, savory, and mildly spicy all at once, thanks to the slow-cooked peppers in the ratatouille, the Piedmontese-breed veal meatballs, and the vaguely Thai green curry sauce. The best part was dessert:

Cheesecake e composta di pere al vino chinato
Cheesecake and compôte of pears with barolo chinato wine

This Italian-style cheesecake, heavy on the mascarpone and brightened with lemon zest, was delicious all on its own, but when I studded my forkfuls with the Barolo Chinato pear compote, it crossed into the realm of divine. Barolo Chinato is a digestif wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and other aromatics. Unph.

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