At first consideration, innovation and tradition seem to fall on opposite ends of the spectrum of progress. But in the kitchen of world-renowned Italian chef Caterina Ceraudo, tradition is in fact the yin to innovation’s yang. The two concepts are as interdependent as they are inextricable.
“I think that to innovate, you need to be aware of and understand your own origins and traditions,” says Ceraudo in a video for illy as part of the renowned coffee company’s #LIVEHAPPilly campaign.
Ceraudo, recognized in 2017 by the Italian Michelin Guide as Best Female Chef, credits several mentors in her life with supporting her successful career in the competitive Italian culinary scene. “There have been three great women in my life,” she says, citing two aunts, Mariuccia and Teresina, as well as her grandmother Caterina—a mother of 12 daughters who has 27 grandchildren in total. In addition to helping Ceraudo learn the fundamentals of traditional Italian cooking, she says that these women have gifted her with “pearls of wisdom that have taught me what truly good food is.”
Three elements are foundational to Ceraudo’s approach to her craft: perseverance, study, and passion. “In this job, there’s a bit of everything. There’s physics, there’s chemistry, there’s history, there’s the social aspect … and there’s a local area, too,” she says. “As soon as you’ve managed to understand [an] ingredient deeply, then you can move on; you can take a step forward.”
Dattilo, the Michelin-starred restaurant where Ceraudo holds the title of chief chef, is perhaps the epitome of the fusion between culinary tradition and innovation. Situated on the grounds of an old mill and 1600s farmhouse, Dattilo is surrounded by bucolic expanses of citrus groves, vineyards, and gardens. The restaurant’s menu takes a cutting-edge approach to classic Italian recipes such as fine pastas as well as rich meat and seafood dishes.
Appreciation of life’s simple pleasures is central to the #LIVEHAPPilly campaign ethos, for which Ceraudo is an ambassador. The experience of sitting down to a meticulously crafted dish—whether a home-cooked meal or an exotic delicacy in a foreign land—often becomes indelibly associated with a destination. In Italy in particular, the dynamic between food, family, tradition, memory, and happiness is evident in every element of the culture.
“What I share with illy, I think, is what we do every day: making other people happy with our work and our knowledge,” says Ceraudo. At Dattilo, there is even a sundial inscribed with the aphorism, “happy is he who makes the others happy.”
Paying it forward is another key element of Ceraudo’s belief system, particularly when it comes to sharing her knowledge of the intricacies of Italian cuisine. “In order to innovate, you have to hand over your knowledge to other people,” she says. “That’s what I do all the time in my kitchen. Everything I learn, I pass on to the people working with me.”
“The true innovation, in my context, it isn’t just mine,” she explains. “Innovation belongs to everyone.”