Martin Lippo: a taste for the unknown
Argentinian-born Martin Lippo, head of Nitroschool, a food research & teaching facility in Barcelona, takes us on a journey to unexplored lands and unveils videos he’s making for Les vergers Boiron.
Check out Martin Lippo’s website, martinlippo.com/nitroschool/ to explore his project, Nitroschool. You’ll discover a cutting-edge laboratory and a new-age philosophy and begin a journey into his exciting world of experimental cuisine. Everything is illustrated in almost magical images and gestures without any spoken words. The results are stunningly beautiful and fascinating.
So, when you Skype Martin, as I did for this article, you don’t expect him to be very loquacious since everything he does seems to be self-explanatory, as are the silent videos he’s currently making for Les vergers Boiron. Well, that’s where you get your first surprise and certainly not the last! From the word go, Martin takes you on a journey of words, with incredible warmth and openness, passionately telling you the story of his life and his culinary explorations, with the unique exuberance of an Argentinian. In fact, in everything he does, he wants to get to the bottom of things. In a word, Martin Lippo is an explorer, and therefore loves uncharted territories.
A restless spirit
So, let’s begin the journey in the Buenos Aires of the 1970s. The story begins with a rebellious 17-year-old refusing to be “brainwashed”, by a very conservative school system. Fast forward to age 22, after attempts to study psychology, anthropology and marketing, where we find Martin sleeping in a restaurant doing a part-time internship.
“I enjoyed cooking, but I quickly felt frustrated”, he admits. “I didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to create my own recipes and felt hemmed in, working in the same place every day, putting out the same dishes and surrounded by the smell of garlic and onions. But, I caught the cooking bug. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary and was interested in a great variety of culinary traditions: French, Italian, Asian, Mexican, Caribbean, even Eastern European, Jewish, etc.”
To further explore cooking in different countries, Martin and four of his friends decided to launch the Delfuego Travelling Chefs group in 1995. “We really functioned like a rock group,” says Martin. “We began in Buenos Aires and then traveled around Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. At each stop, one group member would be head chef and the others his seconds, like having a different lead singer each time. I continued to learn more about using local products, adapting my style to the context and cooking in the spirit of different cultures.”
Exploring new horizons
After a first unsuccessful attempt at running his own restaurant in 1995, Martin launched his second restaurant in 1997, based on what he had learned in his Delfuego adventures, focusing on using local products and on researching what he calls ‘post-modernist or conceptual cooking’. “I realized that most top-level chefs were imitating trends from abroad, using expensive and hard-to-get products. I preferred using local ingredients such as quinoa, amarante (an Inca grain) and llama meat, to test new combinations of tastes,” he asserts.
Martin’s cooking caught the attention of the press and, one year later, at age 27, he was voted best “Author chef” in a new section, “Post-modern cuisine”, created in Argentina’s leading food magazine. “I just wanted to try out everything I could think of, such as making a meal with a single product, like using everything in a pumpkin – the seeds, the flesh, the juice, the skin – all cooked in different ways. Some dishes used as many as 12 techniques. This was a great research idea, but certainly not a moneymaker.”
Martin’s success among food critics gave him new opportunities, such as cooking for diplomatic events in Argentina and catering to prestigious clients in a wide range of places from luxury yachts to archeological sites. “This was a great experience, but I felt that good food shouldn’t be reserved for the rich or powerful. I had already organized a free dinner one evening for 200 people in a Favella in Brazil as one of the Delfuego events and I did the same for 1,000 people in the north of Argentina. I also gave cooking lessons to people in residences for the elderly. I believed then, as I do now, that it is essential to teach people to cook well, no matter what their level of wealth, focusing on doing the best with what you have and avoiding waste.”
Martin then opened his third restaurant in Buenos Aires, where he attracted young would-be chefs and apprentices. “There were 10 people in the kitchen serving 50 diners. Having to teach these inexperienced cooks, mainly school dropouts, I realized I was lacking some fundamentals, so I began to read everything I could, searching for new ideas and readily available ingredients. Teaching became a passion. Unfortunately, the restaurant was badly located and we had to close within a year. It was a great experiment and made me want to explore uncharted territories even more.”
Martin and the Delfuego Travelling Chefs group then decided to leave South America in 2000 and went on tour all over the world, from Indonesia to Mexico, via Russia and a dozen other countries, cooking up a storm everywhere they stayed. Martin also discovered a demand for cooking consultants and began to work with local cooks to find new recipes and concepts.
Linking Ferran Adrià and Auguste Escoffier
In 2004, after Delfuego broke up, Martin moved to Barcelona, where he began to explore a world of cooking possibilities that, in line with his previous experiences, broke down the barriers of conventional thinking. “I always enjoyed research, teaching and looking for new directions. Barcelona was bubbling at the time, as epitomized by El Bulli and its chef Ferran Adrià. I wanted to participate in this cooking revolution, but not get catalogued. For me, for example, I also believe in the wisdom of the great classical French cook, Auguste Escoffier, who already believed over 100 years ago that cuisine, without ceasing to be an art, would become scientific and would replace its empirical formulas with method and precision, leaving nothing to chance. Freedom for me has always meant using every available source. I like to thing of my cooking as freewheeling and unbounded, where I’m as much interested in using avant-garde techniques as I am in finding out why a particular sausage has only been made in a single region for centuries. There’s something to be learned in both. I’m always simply asking why and how can you make things better, tastier, healthier, more accessible.”
Today, Martin applies this open philosophy in what he calls his ideal place of learning, Nitroschool, in Barcelona. This place is many things: a laboratory, a teaching center, a forum for exchange and exploration, a place to cook, but also to think. “Food is today a key subject that reflects and influences every aspect of our life. What we eat, how we prepare our food, where it comes from, how it affects our health and how we address these questions determines a great deal of our lives. So, at Nitroschool, we’re as much interested in exploring sophisticated techniques for chefs as we are in disseminating knowledge to people cooking at home. In the same spirit, we want to encourage people to use local and seasonal products, but we also want to incite industrial food makers to produce better and healthier foods. It’s all part of a huge jigsaw and we need to work in many directions.”
In that spirit, Martin is now producing a series of 60 videos commissioned by Les vergers Boiron. These short pieces, often just one or two minutes long, are “silent” films (subtitled with the ingredients) that demonstrate graphically how to combine techniques and flavors to create something tasteful and appealing. “Our goal is to be both sophisticated and simple at the same time, to demystify techniques such as cold cooking, espuma, gelification, sous-vide, etc. Most of the tools needed are simple, available and easy to use, as are the ingredients. In the videos, we simply give examples of combinations and suggest a few steps to follow. It’s then up to each person to try things out. Quite frankly, technique isn’t the real challenge; it’s how willing we are to use our imagination that really makes the difference.”