CUSTODIAN OF ONE OF THE RAREST PASTA IN THE WORLD
Chef Leo Gelsomino tells Jytte Holmqvist how he learned to master the mystical art of Sardinian pasta Su Filindeu.
Leonardo Gelsomino, a pleasure meeting you. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your profession, experience and expertise and I’m also curious to know more about Su Filindeu – or “threads of God- pasta” from Sardinia.
You have received favourable acclaim in the Australian media particularly after an enlightening interview with the SBS on 28 March, 2019, which turned our attention to Su filindeu. Before I ask you more about this special pasta, what do you find most fascinating about pasta, in general?
The most fascinating thing is learning to make different types of pasta the artisan way; experimenting with different types of flours and tasting the results of textures, shapes and flavours blended together with other ingredients. For me, each shape or style of pasta can be linked to the identity of the environment of the region it comes from. For example, culurgiones are exclusively found in Sardinia. The artistry towards certain foods helps give identity to a pasta and demonstrate a sign of the times.
You have Calabrian roots and in the aforementioned SBS interview you declare that “making pasta is not just a job. It’s a spiritual experience” bestowed upon you by your grandmother, mother and aunties. Please elaborate.
As a child I knew I loved food, I watched my mum and dad make pasta and cook for the family. It wasn’t until I began my career as a chef that I made the connection between my parents feeling the same as I do when I cook for my customers at Lello. When you make the pasta by hand and match it perfectly with the right ingredients, that’s not something you will easily forget.
When did you first hear about Su Filindeu and how did you come upon the “secret” recipe?
I first heard about Su filindeu by reading an article back in 2016 and I immediately thought: ‘I need to learn this!! This is a pasta like no other. I became obsessed by learning this mystical, rare art. I investigated for 2 years to get someone to teach me. I was almost going to pop up at the foot-steps of the Sardinian city of Nuoro in the hope to find someone to teach me. But then I came across an organisation called La Cucina delle Matriarche, run by Simonetta Bazzu and Maria Antonietta Mazzone who informed me that they were only looking for professionals or scholars to teach the secret Su filindeu. I bought my plane ticket before going through a rigorous application process.
Once I arrived I found the wonderful Raffaella Marongiu, who is the rightful heir and custodian of Su filindeu. Su filindeu runs exclusively through her bloodline for as many generations as she can remember and for this reason I am forever grateful to Raffaella for sharing this rare art with me. When I’m making Su filindeu I feel connected to Sardinia and not so far away. I would imagine that in the same way as I hear her guiding voice when I’m making Su filindeu, she hears the voice of her ancestors.
You are the only pasta chef in Australia who knows how to make this type of pasta. It’s an elaborate and complex process, leading to an exquisite pasta that stimulates the taste buds and is also aesthetically pleasing to the eye. How did you learn to master the procedure?
Raffaella showed me the procedure. She advised me ‘to never give up’ and that the dough I make must be my own personally.
Leonardo shares that he is lucky to have been passed on the recipe as a male chef, as traditionally it was strictly shared from mother to daughter.
What does Italian food mean to you?
Italian food starts with an appreciation for a few ingredients that have been cared and nurtured for: To respect and prepare the dishes in the simplest way that allows the ingredients to shine. I also love the stories behind the dishes and ingredients as to why they came about.
If you were to pick one dish from each section of your menu, which would you recommend from antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti, and dolci?
I recommend everything. But at the moment we have our homemade organic prosciutto matured on the bone, that we slice by hand, Spaghetti alla Nerano. It is a lovely dish that uses heirloom organic zucchini and provolone from the Monaco province. And you will love our fish dishes that change regularly. Round off your meal with our Chocolate and Hazelnut Tartufo with Amaro del Capo which was invented for the Piedmont Prince who visited Pizzo at the time to check on his military.
What makes your restaurant stand out above the rest?
Visiting Lello is getting to know regional Italian food that you would find when travelling through the backstreets of Italy, typical of that area but not typically found in Australia. It is good old-fashioned, friendly hospitality.
Leonardo says humbly but sincerely; conscious of the grandeur of the small that is big at the same time. An appreciation for Italy is, in many ways, about learning to appreciate the apparently simple, and with that savor true authenticity.
Finally, would you mind sharing more about Su Filindeu: What are the main ingredients and the creative procedure?
The main ingredients are semolina, water, and salt. After you have made your dough using semolina and water you take a small piece of dough and begin to work the dough using some salt-water. When you feel the dough is ready to be pulled you make a thick strand and place both ends on the palm of your hand and proceed to pull the strands down and then back up onto your palms. You continue to do this until the strand becomes very fine whereby you then lay the Threads of God onto a flat round circular base until you obtain a ‘criss-cross’ of 3 full layers of threads. You then allow this to dry preferably outside in a warm sunlit room, where the pasta then hardens into delicate sheets of Threads of God.