An Appetite for Paris

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Massimo Mori

in Interviews - Personalities

  Emporio-Armani-Caffè-newly-renovated-Paris.jpg

For many of us, raised in America, Italian food was symbolized by oceans of tomato sauce covering cauldrons of mass produced spaghetti-we didn’t know from pasta. And let’s not forget eggplant parmigiana covered with mozzarella, not bufala, perhaps from Buffalo, lasagna and veal marsala that had been finished with a sweet marsala wine that came in a small bottle for about $1.39, and should have carried the warning: For cooking only, Not For Drinking.

Okay, I exaggerate, there are many places to get a proper Italian meal in Paris but very few that offer the gamut of experience to be had at Emporio Armani Caffé or Mori Venice Bar, where pashas and presidents, performers (Charles Aznavour, Pierre Arditi) and civilians like us dine in Starckian (Philippe) splendor.

Some people open restaurants to make money but Massimo did it because he is passionate and respectful of food and its presentation. We met for lunch at the Emporio Armani Caffé for a discussion of his career.

grillo

As we sit down our waiter pours a Grillo, a white wine from the marsala grape, especially well known in Sicily. It develops its unique character due to oxidation as it is aged for 1 1/2 years in open barrels. And then at the end of a year and a half or two years, according to the winemaker,  they have the unfermented grape juice, the mout or must.  The fermentation can now begin and a slightly sweet wine is produced.

Between the Marsala that the public knows in general and the true Marsala  there is a vast difference because a Marsala is high in sugar content and generally is sweet but there are marsalas that are dry like this Grillo.  It is an Armani Caffe exclusive in France. 

massimo_mori

You were born on a wheat farm in Viadana, on the banks of the Po and much of your passion for Italian cuisine and its history comes from your mother. Talk about la momma?

You must know that in Italy, the mother is very important. Everything revolves around the family. Family is importantThe mother is the central figure. Mine is as important as any other, if not more, because it is thanks to her that I do this job today in a way that was transmitted to me by first my  mother but also by my father who was a craftsman making expensive shoes. I learned the importance of being close to the customer, the value of respecting the client.

 In my case, I also had the professional partProfessional vision. My mother was a “rasdora.” It is a job that no longer exists, it is a profession that was transmitted by women, from mother to daughterAnd it was the person who ran the kitchens of farms. At the time, we were still on the family farm. At one time people served their workers lunch, and they could easily number forty or fifty peopleAnd  even more during harvest period. During a special harvest that figure could double. She was the person who ran all the food and family meals. We had wonderful fresh ingredients and the transformation into meals was not only fun but healthyHealthy for children, but also for healthy people who went to work

Is there a philosophy to your cuisine?

Yes, we only use seasonal productshigh product quality and very little processing. I respect the integrity of the ingredientI don’t  look to create unusual or exotic plates. My cuisine is not intended to shock. It is a cuisine of pleasure. Above all we eat for pleasure and good health. For me, this is the basis of the cuisine. It is also a vision that is not only mine. It is a vision of Mediterranean cuisine in general, and especially Italian.

When did you first come to Paris?

I arrived in France November 14, 1975I was in the service of the King of Spain in Lausanne.I took care of the dining room and the bar of the Grand Hotel Savoy in Lausanne. Bar/restaurant, because at the time the bar was actually a restaurant. And little by little I was put at the service of the King of SpainHe played cards all afternoon with his wife. Then one day he received his daily telex giving information of what was happening in Spain asking him to return immediately to Spain because Franco was finally dying.

When he returnedafter Franco died in November 1975, he wanted me to go to Estoril, the royal golf course, but because I was still young my father suggested I’d be better off in Paris, so I came to Paris to work at the Ritz and I’ve been here ever since.

And that was your first job in the restaurant business?

 No, I came to work for the Ritz but never did because when I came there was a misunderstanding between the head bartender and another bartender who was leaving whom I’d been hired to replace.In fact the guy did not go and they wanted me to work the floor. I didn’t want the job so I left and then one day quite by accident met the President of Stock.
He was trying to start a business in FranceWe met by chance on the Champs-Élysées and over drinks at Fouquet’s he asked what I was doing in France. I explained, and he said come work for us. “ We need guys like you, who know the products.” Given that it was off-season in Switzerland I thought I’d stay here another six months and then return to Switzerland
I wound up staying until 1985 and introduced virtually all the Italian food companies. I opened the Italian restaurant at EuroDisney and later I opened a food company selling fresh Italian food that I eventually  sold to a Swiss group.
How did you come you know Armani
My sister is a stylist in the fashion industry in Milan. Once again, by chance, he was looking to open this Emporio Armani Caffé.  She told him about me and one thing led another. I’ve opened 12 Giorgio Armani restaurants worldwide.
You manage 2 different restaurantsMilanese cuisine here and Venetian cuisine at Mori Venice Bar. What are the main differences?

SAM_1640
The most  important point for me is that the culture of the cuisine. I was fortunate to have studied at the hotel school on Lake Como in 1969-71I’m Venetian by my father and my mother LombardLombard cuisine is part of Venetian cuisine of the Veneto. I did something simpleI chose the major specialties of the great  Milanese cuisine.
When I opened here in 1998the only thing Mr. Armani said was “I want the best spaghetti tomato basil that there is in France.” He did not ask me for caviar or foie gras. He asked me to produce powerful, simple dishes like his art, his fashion. Mr. Armani designs are based on the finest textiles and the cut of the garments. This is not sophistication. Armani is not Versace.
Our cuisine  is exactly the same. Take a tomato basil spaghetti.  What I will add? I added things that today seem normal-grilled vegetables with a great olive oil, beef carpaccio. I added a tiramisuThings which, at the time, did not exist in FranceItalian food was not that. It was the pizza and escalope de veau in Pizzaiolaor marsala
Why the tomato? Because it was a southern cuisineI took the Italian cuisine based in southern France and added what’s chic in Italian cuisineFor example the white truffle.  Some elitists who knew Italy ate white truffles but it wasn’t used by French chefs.
I started here and opened Mori in 2006. The big difference? The products of course. We come from the same base but Armani is  an urban vision, a contemporary vision derived from the products. So there is not just any olive oil, there is not just any wine  everything has a reason to be there. A cuisine that you can eat from noon to midnightYou can have pasta with tomatoes or trufflesdepending on the seasonYou can have a beef fillet or beef carpaccioIt is the quality that defines luxury. On the other hand Mori is built on the same ideological foundation but the vision is terroir chic. The terroir yes, but in a contemporary wayThat is to say that the difference is that at one time the food was prepared with lots of fat and sugar. Today much less so. That’s the  big difference between  Italian and French cuisine in general. France invented the restaurant, that is to say cooking each dish to order. We tend to share plates.
We started our conversation with a glass of wine so let’s end it with a café?
In the U.S. it’s a beverage like Coca-Cola, but in Italy coffee is a drink, a bonbon.
It is something that allows you to digest, leaving a good tastea good perfume like a candy.  But certainly not a beverage. We do not eat with coffeeWhile in the Nordic countries … 
It also comes from the fact that our coffee is quite full-bodied with a strong consistency.  And the espresso machine was invented in Italy. It gives espresso a foamy consistency, creamy– unique.
espresso no 9 decaf
There are  three styles of coffee in Italy-North (the River Po,) Center (Tuscany-Naples,) and South (below Naples.)
The farther south the stronger the coffee, much stronger. In Italy people are connaisseurs of café and they pay attention to the quality of the product being servedYou should know that the steps in making the espresso are super important. To make a perfect espresso, it is necessary for the water to be 90 degrees celsius and at most 20/25 seconds of extractionWhy? Because that’s how we have almost no caffeine in coffee. After 20/25seconds it begins to extract caffeine. A Neapolitan can drink 20 coffees a day and still sleep at night. My mother, before going to bed drinks coffee. She sleeps because the caffeine is absent. A great coffee has less caffeineThat’s the important thing.
Again this is cultural. The Renaissance was in Italy  all those things that we associate with good life were born in Italy Table linen, a round table, knives and forks, Opera–it all comes from Italyit comes from the Renaissance.
armDessert
Meet you at Mori's or Armani Caffé

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