The Gucci ice cream sandwich: how a Mexican has shaken up the gourmet world
Without her chef's apron, I would hardly have believed that this dainty woman on stage at the «ChefAlps» culinary festival is a head chef. Both of her assistants tower over her, but they follow her instructions to the letter. It's clear that Karime Lopez has everything under control.
At the age of 36, Karime Lopez has virtually achieved all there is to achieve: she has worked under René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, at RyuGin in Tokyo and spent five years working with Virgilio Martínez at Central in Peru, which is in the top 10 of the «50 Best Restaurants» list. That's where she met her husband Takahiko Kondo, Massimo Bottura's sous chef at Osteria Francescana (the world's best restaurant according to the above list). Lopez first worked on Bottura's «Bread is Gold», a cookbook highlighting food waste and creating recipes from leftovers. Bottura ultimately recruited her for his new restaurant in Florence. It isn't a coincidence that Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura shares its name with the fashion house: Gucci is now also available in restaurant form.
The Gucci ice cream sandwich
Lopez isn't an Italian native. She aims to blend her Mexican roots with Italian products. She serves a crispy, fried tortilla made from Italian corn with raw, delicately marinated bonito (a species of tuna), accompanied by two creams with typical Mexican ingredients: avocado and chipotle (smoked chiles). The avocados aren't imported; they're grown in Sicily. «The ingredients have to be regional. Nothing else makes sense to me,» adds Lopez. There's no compromising on flavour either: «I've used coriander in this dish even though many of my Italian friends have told me that they don't like it». The Mexican maverick is taking the risk. Her focus is creating a connection between food and childhood memories. «Eating is the first thing a child learns. Before we can speak or walk, we learn to eat,» explains Lopez.
She works her philosophy into everything. And she doesn't just turn her own childhood memories into refined dishes. The entire kitchen team works on ideas and creates new concepts. East Asian-inspired steamed buns, risotto and burgers all have a place on the menu at «Gucci Osteria». Every dish has its own story. The «Charley's» ice cream sandwich is inspired by Bottura's son, who is always in the kitchen asking for chocolate. «It reminds me of my childhood in Mexico. It was really hot there and we ate tonnes of ice cream sandwiches.» Now the gilded Gucci ice cream sandwich is served in her restaurant.
A woman's place is in the kitchen!
Karime Lopez isn't just bringing a new approach to her dishes. She's also fighting for more equality in the male-dominated world of high-end gastronomy. Female chefs are still a rarity. Lopez was the only woman to take to the stage and showcase her skills at «ChefAlps». But there are same number of men and women working in her kitchen in Italy. «It wasn't a conscious decision. I want us to help and inspire each other in the kitchen. A good blend is worth its weight in gold,» assures Lopez. «We don't see each other as men or women here, just people.»
Lopez is tackling the problem, but she hasn't been exclusively met with praise in Italy. «When I started, there was some discord.» Why is a woman running Massimo Bottura's restaurant? And she's not even Italian! Karime Lopez has always answered critics with the same response: «Why not?»