Inside Chef Valentino Cassanelli's Decade of Culinary Art at Michelin-Starred Lux Lucis Restaurant
Lux Lucis, the acclaimed Michelin-starred fine dining establishment, is not merely a place to sate one's appetite; it is a symphony of culinary mastery, nature's wonders, and art's transcendent beauty. Situated atop the prestigious Hotel Principe Forte dei Marmi, this modern Italian venue radiates life and glamour. Behold the stunning panoramic views of majestic mountains and the majestic sea, accompanied by a bustling scene of gastronomic delights and exquisite wines. Everywhere you look, you'll be enthralled by the magnificent marble sculptures crafted by the renowned Korean artist Park Eun Sun, imbuing the space with a soothing aura.
At Lux Lucis, chef Valentino Cassanelli works his culinary wizardry, infusing his creations with his personal stories and a touch of innovation. His upbringing in the quaint town of Spilamberto, where he learned the art of cooking from his grandmother, a master chef, instilled in him a reverence for the abundant biodiversity of every region. After years of honing his skills, his pop-up project at the hotel evolved into the sumptuous and successful Lux Lucis.
In honour of the restaurant's 10-year anniversary last year, we caught up with Chef Valentino Cassanelli to reflect on the challenges he's faced along the way and the exciting news to come.
1. Can you describe your childhood in Spilamberto and how you discovered your passion for cooking?
As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to become a chef. I learnt the joy that comes from cooking for others while helping my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. Spilamberto is in the region of Emilia Romagna, where tortellini and lasagne are a staple, and families make them at home. I used to steal the tortellini filling, that's how curious I was about flavours and textures. And that childhood experience was a significant element in my decision to study and train as a chef.
2. How would you describe Italian cuisine?
Italian food is outstanding and marked by a distinctive array of flavours, ingredients, and even emotions it evokes, depending on the area you are looking at. Italian cuisine is a term that indeed encompasses a wide variety of choices across the country.
3. How would you describe your cuisine?
The most direct and simple way to describe my cuisine is "free expression of Italian cuisine". Free because it is without borders and beyond any trend. Because it is personal and intimate, cooking is my communication method. Italian because I'm proud to represent such a beautiful food and cultural country. I enjoy drawing inspiration from my life experiences - my discoveries when travelling, in particular - and the rich biodiversity of Versilia. Local produce plays an essential role in my creativity. That's why I establish personal relationships with the local producers, trying to find and highlight some of the most representative ingredients. The tasting menus trace a narrative of journey and exploration, whether across the country - from Modena to Forte dei Marmi - and the influences of a curious, open minded thinking.
'The most direct and simple way to describe my cuisine is "free expression of Italian cuisine".'
4. Can you share with us the inspiration behind Lux Lucis?
The inspiration for each dish is unique, but I always look at what's available in the seasons when developing a new one. I begin by imagining the particular feeling I want to evoke. And then, with the great collaboration with Sokol, our Maitre Sommelier, we ensure the drink pairing enriches the experience.
The name Lux Lucis, in Latin, means "light of the light". The concept of light is first a reflection of the restaurant setting. Situated on the hotel's rooftop, it stands between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea. In addition to the panoramic views, during sunset, the space captures the golden evening light. And it's my intention to capture that same light, the beauty of the territory, in the gourmet experience at the table.
5. Lux Lucis just recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary with the tasting menu of 'I'm on the road again'. How has this experience been for you? Can you give us a little insight into the new seasonal menu and some of its highlights?
It has been challenging and emotional: selecting and working again on the best dishes of Lux Lucis has been difficult and fun at the same time - but thanks to our guests, the menu became like a birthday celebration every day. I have worked on the "on the road" menu style since the beginning, and I could see how I have changed my approach to the plating while keeping the soul of it. The following menu will be changing in three different ways to see the Lux Lucis cuisine declined into varied forms: "Litorale" (Coastal), "Salmastro" (Salty sea), and "Orizzonti"(Horizons). The menu is called "Versilia in movimento" (Versilia in motion). My style and the Lux Lucis approach to hospitality are still the same, and I evolve naturally for an even more engaging connection with the guests.
6. What has been the biggest challenge for you and how did you overcome it?
Every day is a challenge for me because I strive to live with a child's curiosity and the focus and meticulous attention of restaurant management at the same time. Also, you can only sometimes prevail in challenges. I am frequently scrutinised in my roles as a cook and frontman. So, when a dish is not appreciated or fails to reflect the full amount of work and worth that went into making it, it is a failure that should encourage us to persevere rather than make many changes to open up some still partially closed doors of perception.
"Every day is a challenge for me because I strive to live with a child's curiosity and the focus and meticulous attention of restaurant management at the same time." - Valentino Cassanelli
7. If you could give yourself a piece of advice at the start of your culinary career, what would it be?
Always follow your gut feeling: seeking freedom of expression and pursuing my passion for cooking to make joyful occasions unique. The example many charismatic people gave me, that I studied and respected, was more valuable than any guidance.
8. What do you plan to achieve with Lux Lucis in the next 10 years?
As a destination restaurant, we like to grow and give visibility to the country and be part of an extensive community network. The goal is to continue building on a great food experience, with a deep respect for the territory and where the human being is at the heart of it.
9. What do you hope the guests will take away from dining at Lux Lucis?
Food is my life. It is an expression of nature, culture, and who I am. I aim to learn more about our region and its traditions every day while working with my brigade and sharing with other chefs. We operate with an open mind and sustainably to provide our guests with the best gastronomic experience. The centre and our primary form of communication is food. And I hope that Lux Lucis' guests take away all the passion I put into my dishes.
All imagery is provided by Lotus International.
Address: Viale Ammiraglio Morin, 67, Forte dei Marmi, Italy | Website: principefortedeimarmi.com/en/restaurants-bars/lux-lucis-restaurant | Phone: +39 0584 783636 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Instagram: @luxlucisristorante | Facebook: @luxlucisristorante