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Matias Perdomo, the chef of “tailor made”

A chef who has no rules, a tailor-made attitude, and is full of surprises

Matias Perdomo, a chef of Uruguayan origins – class 1980 – is one with the most mentions in the Milanese gastronomic scene, both for his legendary experience at the Pont de Ferr, which with him has earned a Michelin star, and for his precious creation, the Contraste Restaurant.

Contraste - Interni| Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

Matias begins his career in a small Chilean restaurant, then arrive French catering and a friend Juan’s invitation to join him in Italy to work at Pont de Ferr – where he will remain for 14 years in charge of the kitchen – transforming this typical trattoria in a gourmet restaurant.

Contraste | Photo Credit: Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

After the Michelin star, comes a new chapter: the opening of Contraste in 2015. Here, you will be immersed in an almost mystical atmosphere right at the entrance, with soft light, “The Secret,” a statue that looks at the guests asking for silence, Sneak peeking through a small hole in the wall, you can have a glimpse of the team’s work in the kitchen. After, you are taking on the journey that will satisfy your culinary wishes thanks to a tailor-made approach, unique in the city.

Contraste | Photo Credit: Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

It is impossible to resist the temptation to interview this chef capable of transforming each dish into a gourmet surprise.

Hello, Matias, first of all, thank you so much for agreeing to interview and compliments for all your goals.

How did cooking come into your life and when did you realize you could do it as a job?
When I was 13 or 14 I didn’t want to study anymore and started working with my uncle. After that I realized how much I loved working and I started cooking, also with my uncle: we enrolled in a private college, learned a bit of international cuisine, and I felt that my passion was growing.

Matias Perdomo - RitrattoPhoto credit © Paulo Rivas Peña

An international chef in a very traditional Italian cuisine: what is the most important challenge you had to deal with at Pont de Ferr?
When I arrived at Pont de Ferr I was 21, the first 4-5 years I studied, worked as a Sous-chef, learned the Italian way, which is different, unique. For me, Italian cuisine is the best in the world and I have always respected it. The relationship with the tradition is there and since I do not come from an Italian family, it was easier for me to modify a recipe, or try at least. One never stops studying the tradition, the gastronomic culture of a country as big as Italy. Every time I make a traditional recipe I want to revisit it, but I always part from respect, this is fundamental not to distort it.

Contraste - Donut alla bolognese | Christian ParaviciniPhoto credit © Christian Paravicini

Do you prefer a more innovative cuisine though?
I like to think about the days gone by, but now fashion is constantly changing, we eat lighter and the cooking has to be consistent with people’s new lifestyle. Eating lighter should be a new tradition.

Contraste - Pulp Fiction| Christian ParaviciniPhoto credit © Christian Paravicini

When did you start considering the idea of a restaurant?
A restaurant is the dream of every chef. After 15 years at the Pont de Ferr, the timing was already right to accomplish my creation, although a restaurant was a great responsibility and a risk, I felt ready. I started thinking about it seriously a year before leaving Pont de Ferr.

Contraste | Photo Credit: Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

You always look for ways to impress your guests, stimulating their curiosity at 360 °. What are your goals for Contraste? Are you happy with the results you’ve achieved?
We cook what we like to eat, eating is an emotion. We try to surprise you with dishes that seem impossible to replicate at home. The most fun part for me is the little deception of creating something that does not seem like what it really is and I believe customers are enjoying it with me. People who have no interest in food, who just want to spend a nice evening with friends do not come to my restaurant. Our guests want to have fun with food and wine, so we offer a 360 ° approach.

Contraste - scrigno| Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

Contraste’s menu is full of creativity: could you explain when and how does a new idea arise? Is it a process that involves the whole team?
There are moments of quiet and tranquility in the kitchen. Creativity must be stimulated, motivated, even if many times the more you search the less you find. We continually try new dishes and instantly identify the sensations they transmit, our opinion about it, whether they need a change, an improvement, whether they are catchy or boring. It is a daily process, we seek new concepts, new ideas. In the end, a kitchen for a cook is like a palette for a painter, the colors that describe him better are those which he uses to express himself better. So the better a chef is with a product, the more developed it gets in his kitchen. We oblige ourselves to find new products, through travels and through discovering new cultures. I try to focus a lot on Italian ingredients, even if I do not use them exclusively, I’m open to everything.

Contraste | Photo Credit: Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Christian Paravicini

What do you think about the trend of “healthy food” that is spreading in the city? Do you all vegetarian and vegan options to the Contraste menu as well?
The subject is complex. As chefs, we have a great responsibility to be consistent. “Healthy” at the end is just a slogan and being vegetarian/vegan does not mean healthy eating. What makes the difference is a balanced diet, the ability to understand the logic of matching ingredients and recipes, you should eat to be well. I have vegetarian options in my menu and always respect my guests’ intolerances, however, for a 100% vegetarian menu, it would make sense to go to a specialized place which works exclusively on this kind of emotion.

Contraste - Tavoli Nuvole | Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

I’ve seen that you’ve recently acquired a Busci artwork for the restaurant and that previously you had a Murano glass dish by Ciffo. What is your relationship with art in general and how does it influence your cooking? Do you intend to undertake new collaborations in this field?
Everything for me is art and more often I view art as something that is not defined as such, not created with the aim of being an artwork. Art can be compared to working in the kitchen, it is the same evolution of thought, in the end, artists work with their materials as chefs work with ingredients. First of all these artists you mentioned are all my friends, that’s why I have their works. The restaurant is an artistic support, in the future I might change something but the statue of Matteo Pugliese at the entrance has already become a symbol of the restaurant and will surely remain. There are only ten in the world.

Contraste | Photo Credit: Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

Is there a limit to creativity in the kitchen? Does the chef need to “hold himself back” to meet the needs of customers and their expectations? What do you think about the trend for famous chefs becoming brands themselves?
Setting limits means interrupting creativity and motivation in the kitchen. Today our scope is too little, we do not listen to our inner voice, we spend more time making ourselves aware of what happens elsewhere than thinking about what we do every day. There is a battle with time to reach goals without appreciating the road that leads to them. The real success today is to be happy with something while doing it. The quest for fame is self-destructive, creativity vanishes as you lose sight of the truly important things. There is a great lack of depth in today’s thinking: if you do this work to get the attention of the media, you lose the essence of the craft itself. Fame is an immediate result without real value, and wasting time to follow this road means obtaining it to the detriment of something more important. I think chefs who just think of being famous are a living contradiction: I would never leave my restaurant to promote it. People who come and do not see me do not come back, while in teamwork results are obtained. It will take longer, but it will create real, authentic value.

Matias Perdomo - ProfiloPhoto credit © Paulo Rivas Peña

What are the chefs that are exemplary for you? Is there anybody in particular that you admire in a particular way?
Joan Roca I admire greatly, these three brothers (Joan, Josep, and Jordi of the El Celler de Can Roca restaurant) together are the example of a perfect restaurant. There is play, fun, ability, history, tradition, a great cellar, passion and the constant balance between tradition and innovation. In Italy, I quite admire it Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana in Modena). He risked a lot by incorporating tradition into a completely new and complex context, never losing his respect for it, and is now the number one in the world. Josean Alija (the Nerua Restaurant, Bilbao) has been my friend for many years and has great sensitivity in the kitchen, with a style completely different from mine. What I find exciting is the evolution that he has had over the years, having more or less my age he seems much more mature.

In the rare moments of not working, what are your favorite places in Milan for the following occasions?
Breakfast: Bar Massimo, an historic place opposite Contraste.
Brunch: I do not.
Lunch: Il Brutto Anatroccolo (via Torricelli, 3) which is always full. The food is very good and tiramisu is the best in Milan.
Aperitif: La Bottega del vino – La Coloniale (Corso Genova, 19), opened in 1969.
Drink: Rita & Cocktails in Navigli.
Night out: Plastic, that of one time.

If your friend who has never been to Milan comes to town, where will you take them?
To the small streets of Brera, some corners of the Naviglio, in the side streets around Paolo Sarpi.

A treat for our readers: your favorite “hidden corner” in Milan?
My little garden at Contraste.

Contraste | Photo Credit: Guido de BortoliPhoto credit © Guido de Bortoli

Thanks again and congratulations from the editorial staff of Flawless Milano!


Photo credit cover picture © Guido de Bortoli

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