Q: Kris, what brought you to Villa Lena?
A: I was doing some looking into residencies in the U.S. to start I have always wanted to work on a farm and be able to cook with the ingredients in a locavore kind of way. I was accepted into one residency in upstate New York but as I came to think I continued to do more research on chef-in-residency programs around the world. As I surfed the web Villa Lena show up in my search, I did what anyone would do and I clicked the link: it was “Amore a prima vista”! I was captured immediately I just knew I had to continue to read what this 19th-century Italian villa located in Palaia, Italy was about. Through this research, I put in some work (literally) and actually got in contact with the owner Lena Evstafieva we had a Skype interview and next thing you know I was set for 2018 Aug-October chef-in-residence. The ortos, the pigs, the agriculture, the ethos, land, community, farmers, butchers, hunters, cuisine, artist are what all brought me to the Villa.
Q: How was your typical day at the Villa like?
A: My day to day at the Villa was so beautiful it was like imagery from ‘Call me by your name’. I woke up to the Tuscan sun peeking through the stain glassed windows on the tower room I was staying in… I called it the Penthouse of the tower… because it was. I would shower in my very deluxe Italian bathroom. Then I headed out to go to the villa orto where the view was always beautiful and the produce growing was thriving. I would pick all of my vegetables I would need for my stock and either item for me in the garden or pasta workshop which I did twice a week and my favourite chef-in-residence dinners where me and my sous chef (culinary intern ) Valentina created epic menus and always uplifted the traditional Tuscan style of cuisine. Then with the artist who was chosen to come to visit each month, they had workshops, studio visits, and performances which I would attend. There were sometimes weddings I crashed w/ the artist after having the chance to craft the menu for them which was soooooo much fun. The typical day was never the same from morning to evening but I did have a regiment to check on the gardens, check in with the agriculture team who I loved they are all absolutely amazing and keep the everything at Villa Lena exquisite. Doing some morning and afternoon foraging, man, I was in heaven with the wild ingredients, checking on the pigs from day to day and having a conversation with them and just living my best life while being one with nature. Made friends with the talented artist, musicians, writers, photographers, ceramist, cooks, farmers and just so many great amazing individuals this was the highlight of my days.
Q: Villa Lena runs weekly cooking classes – what kind of workshops did you run during your residency and did you enjoy doing them?
A: Loved my workshops and everyone I met through them. I hosted a pasta workshop like an Italian Nonna. Like my classes we were making ravioli, agnolotti, tortellini, fettuccine, tagliatelle, farfalle, orecchiette, fusilli and so much more. We would have a toast with a great Villa Lena sparkling and go right into throwing flour in the air. We would then direct the guest to sit down for a demo of cooking the pasta with the salad. My first class I kind of wanted to show off a bit haha and be ambitious so I made this raviolis w/ local ricotta and parmesan and then tossed them into some of the tomatoes grown on the property with Villa Lena olive oil, chillies and lemons coming from the orto. I also made a foraged green salad with everything edible I could find and it was drizzled with a wildflower vinaigrette, I foraged for wildflowers every day.
My into the garden and forage workshop was fun to I felt like I was able to teach and also learn something myself in the ortos on the property and my good friend Paul the farmer who would be in the garden around 5 am daily watering the plants, planting new plants, and keep the orto precise. We would stay in the garden for quite a while haha before cooking the guest loved trying the vegetables fresh from the garden and the kids loved to pick everything haha. I would make all kinds of dishes in the class from salads to soups to risotto and even some pasta dishes.
Q: Let’s talk about truffle; did you go truffle hunting on the estate? And did you have the chance to cook with it?
A: Every day I was truffling! The truffle hunting was such an experience with my friend Paolo and his dog’s man he has them trained well and he even told how he found a giant tartufo bianco. I was amazed and the truffles we found on the hunts I would use in my pasta making workshops. The flavour was out of this world right out of Italian soil on the villa property it was like the land of gold accept for truffle. I took advantage of these activities and hanging with these agriculture guys they taught me a lot about the Italian landscape.
Q: Your favourite residency dinner menu?
A: My favourite dinner I did at Villa Lena was pretty much all of them because each dinner was slightly different especially with being as local and sustainable with ingredients as possible so I choose three dishes that I made I like the most; Caramelized onion and fennel zuppa I served with a caramel onion + fennel purée and deep rich earthy onion consommé, crunchy onion and fennel crispy. The agriculture team hunted this fresh I was there !!! haha Grilled Wild Venison smoked with Rosemary bush ( the villa had tons and they were HUGE!) Foraged sunchoke puree, Sunchoke chips, Cannellini beans, and green tomato. Then I crafted this really moist, rich and delicious Olive oil cake using the first harvest olive oil in the batter …Omgoodness this was life! Served with grilled wild peaches, sorrel granita, Honey almonds and crema and a little drip drip of the olive oil. Bellissimo!
Q: We know you went hunting during your residency. Did you like it? What kind of animals did you hunt for?
A: I loved hunting with Pietro and his buddy, another old school Italian hunter. I was so ecstatic I was making this hunting passion come true in Tuscany like how many people can say they went hunting for wild boar and deer in Italy. The boar hunts were fun we went deep into the wood to a hideout to capture the boar mid daylight on a timed schedule for feed. Once captured we went back out sundown to get the capture. This was very wild and native to see haha. This is the only reason why we should be eating me is if we can hunt our own and I did absolutely that. The meat was heavingly juicy, juicier and divine.
Q: In October you assisted to the olive harvest, and you had the chance to taste fresh Villa Lena olive oil. Tell us a bit about it, and how to use it…
A: The olive trees are everywhere on the property and it’s a sight to see. The harvest of the oil was fun to set down the netting and shake and use a tool to rattle the ripened olives off. Olives fresh off the tree don’t taste so good but when pressed the oil was like nothing I ever had and the way to sip it down so that it aerated inside of your mouth and reach or nasal glands it opened my palate the flavour was spicy and green. I tried to use this oil whenever I could in my sauces, dressing, pasta, truffle oil, and cakes
Q: Foraging is an important aspect of your cuisine. I guess at Villa Lena you were doing it on a daily basis…
A: Allday Everyday …Mushrooms, Wild Fennel, Wild Oregano, Wild figs, Wild lemons everything oh and grapes Sangiovese from the harvest!
Q: Did the residency affect your inspiration?
A: The residency inspired me to write, sing, create art, create wonderful food, to learn and pretty much do everything I love and set out to do them. I left the villa so inspired and have so many new things in the works because of that. I wish I would have documented the 3 months better but living in the moment was soooo much more rewarding than having millions of post to post on Social
Q: Is there any one moment of the residency which summed it all up?
A: The night of Ferragosto, we feasted and danced all-night this is the night where I felt this moment is and was where I was supposed to be my hard work is coming into fruition and being at the villa showed me this.
Q: What’s next for Kristopher Edelen?
A: So many blessings and manifestations happening you’ll just have to stay tuned ha-ha and maybe a surprise visit at the Villa!