Tucked away in the centre of Milan, Ernst Knam’s pastry and chocolate shop “L’Antica” is a wonderful world to discover.
The acclaimed chocolate king and Gualtiero Marchesi’s disciple tells us about his lifelong dedication to a craft that combines passion and experimentation, in a perpetual quest for excellence.
When did your passion for chocolate start? And how did you become a pastry chef?
Like Obelix, Asterix’s friend, I fell in a big cauldron of molten dark chocolate. But seriously, I was born with a sweet tooth. I always helped my mother in the kitchen, especially when she was preparing Christmas cookies. She used to make 60 different types of biscuits, and their perfume pervaded every corner of our home. I still use both my mother’s and my grandmother’s recipes.
My inspiration comes from everywhere: a landscape, a look, a song, a memory, a city...
I will never stop repeating it: it takes an incredible passion.
I believe that passion is essential in every trade, not just this.
Your received many awards in your career: which is the most prestigious, or the one that you are particularly proud of?
There are two: the Ice Cream World Championship, where I was captain of the Italian team, and the Italian Chocolate Championship.
There is always something innovative and special in the way you mix your ingredients. Which combination do you consider the most daring, and what inspires you?
When one is not familiar with the raw materials, certain combinations can appear to be audacious. I like special fusions, like black garlic and 70% bittersweet dark Mexico chocolate.
Or white chocolate Tahitian vanilla pralines with Avola almond and sweet peppers Agar Agar. Or “cacio e pepe” (cheese and black pepper) chocolates. My inspiration comes from everywhere: a landscape, a look, a song, a memory, a city...
You became famous for your pastry, but your creativity has no boundaries, ranging as it does from salty to fried recipes, to gluten-free dishes.... Are you working on any new project?
Something is cooking.... but it’s too early for me to talk about it.
In your opinion, what features of your craft make it a Métier d’Art?
In my research, I always look for innovations that are both beautiful and tasty. But I don’t stop at that. The real challenge is to explore new frontiers in taste: the ultimate goal is to transform pastry into an Art. Because it stimulates the senses and transmits something that is very meaningful and profound.
Would you encourage young people to embrace this profession?
Certainly, if they have passion, intelligence and audaciousness.
In terms of training, what do you reckon is the best way to approach this world?
In Italy there aren’t many professional schools dedicated to pastry, but a good way to start is to build practical experience in pastry workshops. And I would also suggest to spend some time working abroad.
And what would your recommendations be to those who would like to achieve your level of excellence?
I will never stop repeating it: it takes an incredible passion. I believe that passion is essential in every trade, not just this. It is fundamental, it gives you the drive that enables you to get to where others don’t. Passion makes you experiment and take risks.