The popular imagination likes to label talent a gift while the scientifically inclined would propose a genetic source. Whether we ascribe culinary genius to a touch of grace or a string of proteins, we are left with a rather nebulous concept, one that defies precise definition. More than the sum of its parts (invention, technique, timing, mastery of raw materials) it implies that there is something beyond that which can be conquered by study and industriousness. In short, you either have it or you don’t.
The critics present rare unanimity in assigning this quality to Heinz Beck. They have mused on the source of his talent in print, attributing it to everything from Teutonic discipline to a firm grounding in French technique. They have noted his seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy as well as hi extraordinary ability to focus on the telling detail – from an exquisitely accented sauce to a perfectly draped tablecloth. Much has been made of his full-immersion in Italian cuisine and the apparent ease with which he has assimilated, as it were, a second culinary language. Who could not help but be utterly charmed by a Bavarian chef audacious enough to propose variations on the tomato to Romans?
The element of context is not without importance when exploring the Beck mystique. At La Pergola Heinz has gone a long way toward restoring an element of culinary grandeur to the imperial city. With an uncanny sensibility for the relationship between the restaurant and the city, eh has imbued La Pergola with an extraordinary atmosphere. Perched on Monte Mario high above Rome, it seems to offer the entire city to a selected audience each evening, yet the clamor remains far below. His cuisine is, at times, very much ‘of the city’ in its vocabulary (lamb, oxtail, fava beans, artichokes), yet utterly divorced from it in its manner of expression (subtlety, lightness, awareness of contrasting textures). Heinz’s hand-picked staff, assembled over a period of five years, is regally professional, yet never cold or distant. Like Rome, his restaurant seems both effortlessly grand and disarmingly willing to please.
The one hundred recipes offered in this collection allow Heinz Beck’s extraordinary talent to speak for itself. Technique and sensibility, grandeur and simplicity are all there from his Fried Zucchini Flowers with Crustacean and Saffron Consommé to his Tortellini with Fava Beans and Pecorino Cheese; from Herb-Crusted Capriolo to Almond Flower Sorbet. The spark that animates their creator may defy definition, but the joy and dedication he brings to his profession are evident in every passage.