"When I started cooking, I focused on a cuisine that did not represent me. It represented only the techniques and foods that I had learned to cook. But at one point I realized that I wanted to create a cuisine that carries a part of me, which is not that simple. To reveal your own identity and personality through cooking, it is necessary to go through a long process, take everything off yourself, strip everything down, and give yourself freedom."
The ease of her cooking, the calmness and the love towards each ingredient was amazing and simply enchanting. Ask any visitor of the International Week of Italian Cuisine held at the Culinary Institute Kul IN, in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy in Zagreb, the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade, the Italian Cultural Institute, and ALMA la Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana. Isa Mazzocchi does not conceal the great secrets of gastronomy, and her success is not just a result of her culinary origins or growing up in the family osteria, but also because of her sheer fascination with food and her playfulness and child-like curiosity towards cooking. Her exceptional dedication and thoroughness in choosing ingredients, openness to learning and discovery, as well as the selfless sharing of knowledge and experience, make Isa not just an excellent person, but an excellent professional and artist as well.
Although Isa could have chosen to work at world-renowned restaurants, after graduating from Tourism and Hospitality in Salsomaggiore Terme and working with many eminent chefs of today like Paolo Vai, Mary Barale, Vissani, Gualtiero Marchesi, Herbert Hintner, Luca Casadio, Filippo Chiappini Dattilo and many others, but she decided to realize her childhood dream. In the small village of Bilegno, near Piacenza, with a population of just 95 inhabitants, Isa turned her family’s osteria into the exquisite restaurant La Palta, where guests from all over the world come to eat, including members of Michelin. In addition to the Michelin star she received in 2011, Isa is also named one of the top ten female chefs in northern Italy.
Even though she speaks of her Michelin star and her success very modestly, she is grateful for the acknowledgments because they have enabled her beautiful dreams to become part of the world culinary scene, working with the best ingredients, promoting local recipes, and pushing forward the somewhat forgotten ingredients and dishes of her region. Kul IN students had the opportunity to spend a couple of days chatting and cooking with Isa, which our chef rarely has the opportunity to do. A hard worker from deep inside her bones, she spends about two weeks per year away from her restaurant. She uses those two weeks to get acquainted with new restaurants, chefs, or foods from other regions, so having Isa with us for three days was a great fortune. What were her impressions about staying in Croatia? What does she think about the culinary world? These are things that are best revealed by Isa herself.
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE WHAT TO PREPARE FOR THE INTERNATIONAL WEEK OF ITALIAN CUISINE?
It was very difficult to choose what to prepare, it was terribly difficult, I wanted to bring a thousand things. Emilia Romagna (a region of Italy) has a huge number of products, recipes and I was really confused because I wanted to share with this school a lot of knowledge, history, and culinary traditions. I was moved by the reactions of the students, I felt a great desire for creation, learning and achievement. The interest in their eyes is something that you do not see so often. I especially felt it in the moments when we were hanging out in spare time and working together to prepare the cooking show. When they relax and when you’re in their company, you feel that those are real, sincere moments. To transfer original Italian cuisine, you have to cooperate with Italian chefs. I see in their eyes the thirst for knowledge and therefore they deserve the best. The school is great, from the kitchen, the pastry practicum, the people working in Kul IN are really passionate and that's what I've seen in these three days.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CUISINE?
Since I was born I had a strong desire to cook, and I suffer when I'm not in my kitchen. I just have a constant desire and need to cook, I'm sick - Isa laughs. What I did today is work that carries a lot of fears. When I started cooking, I focused on a cuisine that did not represent me, it represented only the techniques and foods that I had learned to cook. But at one point I realized that I wanted to create a cuisine that carries a part of me, which is not that simple. To reveal your own identity and personality through cooking, it is necessary to go through a long process, take everything off yourself, strip everything down, and allow yourself freedom.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR NEW GENERATIONS OF COOKS?
The new generations are the best in the world. They have to think about what they want, and to do what they want, they must be free. The best advice I can give them is to follow their heart and to always try to feel the moment. I myself did not have any security in life, but with time this became my strength and I always aspire to be myself. In life, it is also very important to be able to evaluate your virtues and weaknesses, in order to transform the weaknesses into virtues.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT CROATIA?
There is huge potential in Croatian gastronomy and I hope it continues to develop and advance in the direction of preserving local products and recipes. I am particularly pleased to see the passion and desire to learn in young people. I have really enjoyed this trip, I learned and discovered a lot.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A CHEF?
A chef's life is incredible and crazy in every sense of the word!