A Jewel in the Sand: Three-starred Restaurant Uliassi

It might be a bit of a cliché, but the story started when a boy fell in love with a girl.

“I started working as a cook when I was seventeen and that was a lot of years ago. Before doing catering school, I did a technical school. But this school was not suitable for me, also because to find a girl was like finding a needle in a haystack. I was very young with my hormones totally out of control. When I went to catering school, it was a great party for me, because eighty percent were girls.”

After finishing school and several experiences in high level restaurants, he attended university and had the luck to teach in a catering school to maintain his studies. He decided at that time that he didn’t want to be a professional cook because it was a very hard job and he wanted to continue studying.

“But in the summer of 1983, I fell in love with a girl and when she asked me to cook for her birthday party and for her friends, I cooked with the greatest passion. I cooked, like in the movie Babette’s Feast and for the first time I discovered how wonderful it was to see the pleasure and happiness of others.” Cooking for her birthday party reignited his passion for cooking.   

 

 

Three-starred restaurant on a resort beach

After ten years of teaching in catering school, Mauro Uliassi opened the Uliassi restaurant in 1990 with his sister Catia, and his son later became the restaurant’s maitre. Family remains the foundation of the business. For thirty years, the restaurant has sat on the beach front of Senigallia, a charming seaside resort on Italy’s Adriatic coast. He believes that only in this beautiful place he could develop his career as a chef. Hidden away in an unassuming white wooden structure by the sea, Uliassi welcomes guests with its contemporary interior design and decorative artworks hinting to changing seasons. It is both a restaurant and a gallery where you can have a stunning view of the white, sandy velvet beach just outside. 

Catia Uliassi, sister of Mauro Uliassi

 

The restaurant soon becomes an authentic gourmet restaurant. “Meeting the great masters of Spanish cuisine Ferran Adrià and Martin Berasategui was another turning point in my career”, he says. He is now fully committed to refined cuisine dedicated to the no-frills, uncompromising enhancement of flavours.

With his eponymously named Ristorante Uliassi, Mauro Uliassi became the tenth chef in Italy to be crowned with three Michelin stars by the 2019 Michelin Guide Italy (there are currently 11 three-starred restaurants in Italy).  , including ranking at 52 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list in 2021 and shooting to No.12 on the list with its first-ever entry this year. Three years of Covid did not become an obstacle, instead he has been riding rocket to success.

 

Surf meets turf

 

I had heard a lot of good reviews about Uliassi, but I usually wouldn’t praise too highly when it comes to tourist-packed beachfront restaurants. As a result, Uliassi completely broke those stereotypes and the food was way beyond my expectation.

Although the restaurant is just a few steps from the Adriatic port, proximity to the coast is not necessarily a guarantee of top-quality seafood. Uliassi’s ability to source the best produce from its suppliers should in no way be ignored – it excels in not just seafood, but also game dishes.

Mauro’s cooking is incredibly sophisticated, but he keeps his dishes looking clean, vibrant, and impeccable like the velvet beach outside the window. We ordered the newly crafted Lab menu which places more emphasis on smell this year.

The first course was a crunchy tart with cuttlefish ink, cold sea urchin, tangerine and safflower. The natural sweetness and creaminess of the sea urchin complemented the refreshing tangerine while each stood out distinctively on its own.

Served with green tomato, pollen and dried black olives, the raw cuttlefish had a crisp and tender mouthfeel like sushi, soft but at the same time chewy. Black olives can taste strong and are not easy to use in cooking, but the green tomato balanced its impact and the picturesque plate was visually pleasing.

 

 

The red shrimp dish was a beauty as well. Uliassi is celebrated for its outstanding treatment of shrimp brains. The dish was further composed of orange peel, cinnamon and ginger, placed against a persimmon-hued, twig-patterned background made of rich, umami sauce.

The smoked eel was coupled with apricot, bay leaf and horseradish that opened the nostrils to the breezy scents in a memory of Japanese mustard. The snails were fried to perfectly crispy on the outside and plump inside, harmonised with deep-fried friggitello pepper, oregano, and puffed herbs.

 

 
Land products such as feather game and other meats of rare virtue like rabbits and snails can be found here, a typical element of the gastronomic tradition of the Marches on the east coast. It is unusual to serve game dishes in a seafood restaurant, “but it’s a local tradition as the fishermen of the Adriatic coast hunt as a sideline”. The seared wood pigeon from the mains featured perfect tenderness and a hint of tobacco. No matter it’s seafood or game, Uliassi is always on the lookout for innovation and perfection.
 
 
At Uliassi, ingredients are fresh, finely flavoured and thoughtfully chosen. Compared to some Michelin restaurants in Italy, whose dishes tend to be more French-inspired, Mauro’s cuisine is very much Italian, cutting edge in his own way, and always with his character. The portions are well designed as well – moderation is an attitude and that’s what hearty dishes offered by many three-star restaurants in Europe and America fail to achieve. The meticulous cooking, the picturesque presentation, and a not-so-full stomach at the end of the meal, all contribute to this unforgettable encounter.
 
Lab menu – not a real lab but the spirit of research
In addition to the menu Classico and the menu Caccia, the popular Lab menu has also attracted many gourmets. The restaurant only open nine months a year (closed from 27th of December till the end of march next year). In the three months when the restaurant is closed, they travel for a month, searching for best flavours around the world, before return to the Lab (a creative R&D effort) where the entire team gathers to come up with new, exciting ideas – a discussion process Mauro calls “brain sailing”.
During “brain sailing”, the team would spend eight or nine hours a day reflecting upon past experiences and throwing out new ideas. “In February, we are back to the kitchen.Our brain sailing (we are on the beach so there is wind) takes about 40 days and it is a beautiful period because in this time we discover and we live just what creativity means.”

 

The results from discussion would be tasted and evaluated by the Uliassi family before they become the new Lab menu for the year. When people ask him whether his dishes are traditional or innovative, he says that there is no difference between them, because innovation is tradition that renews. “The food that we cook is modern, because we use the latest techniques but at the same time it is food that comes from the knowledge of tradition.”

As a latecomer to three-starred Michelin restaurants in the Italian culinary scene, Mauro is very positive about the future. “Food and love are the foundations of life without which you could not live. I cook to give pleasure, and I like seeing the ecstasy in the eyes of my guests, and with ecstasy you have the possibility to create a unique and magical moment.” Perhaps it is the power of love that lights up the road to this beach restaurant. For tourists it is a great stopover in the journey, but for me it’s a treasure of surprise that I fell in love at first sight. Uliassi is a place I’ll always want to return to.      

 

Mauro Uliassi and Jocelyn
 

-END-

 

Article/Photo:Jocelyn 华姐

Cover:maurouliassi_instagram

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