Sicily: Lemons and a Fusion Culture – Episode 1 – The Chef and the Instructor

The Chef and the Director / June 3, 2022

Director of the Rijksmuseum Taco Dibbits takes the star chef at the restaurant Rijks Joris Bijdendijk to Sicily (Italy) in the first section. The island once stole its heart, and gastronomy and art merge. The lemon is central here, and it shows …

Green lemons

According to experts, the Syracuse region produces the most fragrant and flavorful lemons available. This is due to the warm climate of the island and the very fertile soil from the volcano Etna.

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Taco Dibbits and Joris Bijdendijk in the lemon grove
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A stack of cultures

Sicily has always been occupied by others: from the Greeks and Romans to the Arabs and Normans. This created a stacked culture. Taco has worked a lot on the island and learned the language that way. He takes Joris to the Valley of the Temples, because if you want to see Greek temples somewhere, you have to go to Sicily. How can it be that The Temple of Concordia is so well preserved?

The Romans have also left their mark. In the best-preserved Roman villa in Sicily, Vila Romana del Casale (Piazza Armerina, 300 AC), you will find the most beautiful and largest mosaics. Rediscovered randomly in the 19th century, they provide a unique insight into the past. Many pictures are about hunting, exotic animals, food and here the lemon also comes back.

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Concordia Temple, Agrigento, Sicily.
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Caravaggio and Emilio Isgrò in Sicily

Did you know that Caravaggio painted several works in Sicily? For the church in Syracuse he made the work ‘The Burial of Saint Lucy’ (1608). A late work by Caravaggio that is very simple but also has something very dark.

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Caravaggio – The Funeral of Saint Lucia (1608)
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In the large botanical garden at the bottom of Etna you can see a work by one of the most famous modern artists the island has produced: Emilio Isgrò. The work ‘The dream of Empedocles’ (2017) made of lava stone consists of a shoe and three enlarged lemon seeds.

The shoe belongs to Empdocles, a Greek philosopher and author who went for a walk on Mount Etna and was swallowed by the volcano. His shoes would have spat out through the volcano after a few days. But what is the point of the lemon seeds? Joris and Taco make video calls with the artist who no longer lives on the island.

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Emilio Isgròs – The Dream of Empedocles (2017)
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In The Cook and the Director, Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits and star chef Joris Bijdendijk travel together to inspire each other. They visit special places all over the world in search of the best in their field. They surprise each other with tasty artistic expressions and monumental dishes.

The first fusion kitchen

This stacking of cultures is also reflected in the island’s food culture, as well as the lemon. Joris lets Taco taste this fusion.

Sicilian couscous

Joris also comes to learn something about Sicilian cuisine. They make a Sicilian dish with Arab roots that has survived over a thousand years of history. Couscous is originally from North Africa and the Sicilians have added some other ingredients.

Lemon Ambassador: Chef Giovanni Guarneri

Chef Giovanni Guarneri makes many dishes with lemon. Syracuse lemon is very fragrant, Guarneri makes a dish with sardines. He also talks about the complex cuisine of Sicily with a wealth of dishes and ingredients, due to all the invasions that have been there. It is the very first fusion kitchen.

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Giovanni Guarneri, Taco Dibbits and Joris Bijdendijk
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Granita by ice magician Corrado Assenza

Corrado Assenza is famous for its lemon granita. He explains that in Italy the patisserie is not called a kitchen, but a laboratory. Assenza even makes ice cream with meat as an accompaniment to a salad. He shows Taco and Joris how to make his famous lemon granita, and the quality of the ingredients and the speed prove to be crucial.

You can watch the first episode of De Kok en de Director on Sunday, July 10, 2022 at 19:25 on NPO 2. Or watch the broadcast (back) via NPO Start.

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