Chef Max Alajmo reflects on achieving three Michelin stars at the age of 28, working with siblings, and his favourite comfort food.
In the world of fine dining, Massimiliano (Max) Alajmo is something of a prodigy. At the age of 28, the Italian chef became the youngest in history to be awarded three stars by Michelin, a title he still retains today at the age of 49. The Alajmo group has some 13 restaurants globally, but Max spends most of his time at the flagship Le Calandre in Sarmeola di Rubano, Italy. Billionaire asks the legendary chef a few questions about his life and work.
As someone who cooks in an elevated style, what do you eat at home?
My wife, Mariapia, is an excellent cook. She is from Calabria in southern Italy, and I really enjoy coming home between lunch and dinner services to find something on the stove. Her version of eggplant parmesan with hard-boiled eggs is a total comfort meal.
Where is home?
I live in Rubano, with my wife and three teenage daughters, just down the street from my parents and sister. Our roots go deep and, honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What do you always have in your pantry that you can’t do without?
Bread and olive oil. And red wine. After a long day, there is nothing better than tearing into a fresh loaf of sourdough and sharing with others around a table, dipping it into 100 percent extra virgin olive oil, my favourite of which is Sicilian.
To achieve three Michelin stars at 28, you must have had to make sacrifices.
Both my brother and I were very focused on the restaurant at that time. We had travelled to France together about 10 years prior and had the goal of bringing fine-dining experiences we had there to Italy, reinterpreted in our own style. There were certainly long hours, but not any more so than today. Thankfully, we have the continued support of our family, which makes it all manageable.
How do you believe you have sustained this accolade?
Our cuisine has evolved over time just as we have, but our focus remains the same: we still strive to do our best every day. We want to see people leave with a smile on their face and a full heart.
How does it work with your brother and sister in the business?
We each have our own roles. My brother, Raffaele, is CEO of the restaurant group. He also manages the business development and is currently working on two new restaurants slated to open next year. My sister, Laura, can be found behind the coffee bar every morning at Il Calandrino, our bistro located next door to Le Calandre. She manages our pastry shop and the visual displays in our restaurants.
What are your most vivid childhood memories of food?
When I was a kid, at the age of five, I used to spend my free time in the kitchens of Aurora restaurant; Le Calandre was called Aurora back then. While my mum was cooking, I used to wander around among the chefs and dream about one day wearing a chef’s jacket of my own. Cooking was my destiny, even if I loved playing basketball. For about a year, I considered leaving the restaurant world to become a professional basketball player. I believe I made the right decision.
You recently paired an incredible meal with the 2009 Dom Pérignon Rosé. Can you share your tasting notes for this Champagne?
The 2009 Dom Perignon Rosé is completely different from any other of their wines. It has incredible freshness, notes of ‘green, leaning towards red’ as Vincent (Vincent Chaperon, Dom Pérignon’s Chef de Cave) likes to define it. One of the notes that impressed me most was fig leaf and red berries. So something light and fresh but with a stable, mature structure. Young, but wise.
What is your favourite dish currently on the menu at Le Calandre?
Al-aimo 2023, dedicated to chef Aimo Moroni. The dish highlights the best seasonal vegetables and changes slightly year to year. Aimo really taught me the meaning of dedication and the value of ingredients. He is now retired, but when he was in the kitchen, he used to be the first one at the vegetable market in Milan and hand select everything that he would use that day. Tomatoes, fava beans, eggplant, basil. Each ingredient at the height of the season.
How do you feel about cooking for vegans?
It can be a challenge, but one I take on with excitement. For years now we have been making vegetable-based sauces and mayonnaise as part of our culinary research into how to create lactic or dairy sensations without the use of dairy. We use these preparations in many of our dishes already. And, more recently, I have been experimenting with nut-based cheeses. We now have one on the menu made with saffron and liquorice. They aren’t intended for vegans but are meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
What about your philanthropic work?
My brother and I founded a non-profit back in 2004 called Il Gusto per la Ricerca. Each year we organise a lunch in a new location somewhere in Italy and bring together chefs from across Italy and Europe to cook for our donors. The money raised goes directly to the foundation, whose mission is to support the research of childhood diseases and directly help those suffering from such diseases. We work closely with the paediatric hospice in Padua, for example.
As a fifth-generation family chef, do you make any recipes that have been passed down from your great-great grandparents?
Yes, there are certain dishes that we have carried with us through the years with some modifications here and there. Take, for example, my great grandmother’s recipe baccalà mantecato or whipped saltcod. She passed it down to my grandmother who lived in Vicenza and would prepare it to be sold under the covered market here in Padua. My father would travel back and forth every day to sell freshly prepared foods alongside the cheeses and salumi.
Until October 28 2023, a limited number of 40 guests will be able to reserve the private dining room at Le Calandre. The Fluidità menu will cost €700 per person and will include a bottle of Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2009.
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The Taste and Travel Issue