The Magazine about Sorrento Peninsula
Categories Food

Sal De Riso’s sweet childhood on the Coast

To some extent, he is a ‘heretic’ of bakery – The genius who reinterpreted some recipes which looked untouchable and gave birth to absolute musts of the Campania region gastronomy, like the pear and ricotta-cheese cake and the Amalfi dessert. However, there is something to which Sal De Riso has always remained faithful: the atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast with its excellence products, breathtaking panoramas, and unmistakably cheerful hospitality. We are meeting him at the end of a TV marathon, to which De Riso has by now grown accustomed.
How strong is the bond between you and the Amalfi Coast?
«I was born here. I have my pastry shop in Minori and my workshop in Tramonti. This land gave me the products that granted my success. For a baker, the ingredients are fundamental, and the Amalfi Coast ingredients are gold. »
However, you are considered as a baker who is always ready to innovate. Were you not afraid that some drastically changed recipes would be a flop?
«Before presenting a dessert at my pastry shop, I personally taste it with my staff. I have to say that many of my desserts achieved an immediate success, probably because each one is based on a study of taste, combinations and presentation. After that, I rely much on my own taste.»
In the beginning was the Lemon Profiterole…
«It was the year 1988. I wanted to differentiate my work from the classical babà, sfogliatella and cannoli to which my colleagues dedicated themselves entirely. I leveraged the Amalfi Coast lemon. Thus, I turned the chocolate profiterole into lemon profiterole. The success of that dessert convinced me to appreciate the value of white figs, Giffoni hazelnuts, Annurca apples and other products of excellence from our land.»
The consecration of your pastries came in 1997 with the pear and ricotta-cheese cake. How did you come up with the idea?
«A farmer gave me a box of Agerola pears. I diced them, then I browned them in a pan with oil, sugar and vanilla. Then I decided to create a simple dessert, like the dried ricotta cheese that shepherds make. I made two hazelnut biscuits that resembled the rind of dried cheese, and I put ricotta and Agerola pears between them. It was a worldwide success».
Is this the dessert you identify yourself with?
«Actually, it is the lemon – A product of excellence that can be found in plenty of ways and kinds of preparation, although sometimes it is not even perceived to be there.»
Lemons, sea, summer – What feelings do these elements produce in you?
«They remind me of one of my most cherished childhood memories: the fresh milk with lemon rind that my mother used to make for breakfast, on the seafront if it was a lucky day. The Minori seaside is still a source of inspiration for me today.»
Over the time, your production expanded to the extent that your creations are tasted all around the world. How did you manage to keep your pastry quality high?
«The choice and quality of ingredients are important, but craftsmanship is fundamental. My workshop is fully equipped and there are 40 confectioners working in it, but we manage it as if it was a small province workshop. We were able to achieve unimaginable results: we went to Qatar and stayed 30 days as guests of the Emir Al-Thani, where we prepared a buffet of sweets every night to be eaten after the fast of Ramadan.»
Have you ever felt at risk of turning from a craftsman into a TV showman?
«Never. I have published a number of books, I have been constantly on TV and in contact with high-level customers, and I am now well known. However, I am truly happy only when people recognize me, even after 30 years, and tell me that I have not changed.»
What is the future of bakery?
«Innovation and lightness: tradition must be respected, we must keep on baking the ‘great classics of of sweetness’, but without being afraid of reinterpreting them or of reducing the amount of fat and sugar.»