Contraste in Milan is one of Italy’s most unique guest experiences. The three owners Matias Perdomo, Thomas Piras and Simon Press aims to surprise each guest with a unique culinary experience based on Matias Perdomo’s respect for only the finest and freshest ingredients, traditional flavors, innovative shapes and experimentation with tastes and pairings. Recently Contraste was awarded with their first Michelin star.
We have met with the trio behind the concept of “tailor made” to know more about how they manage to continuously surprise their guests and to discuss their take on a memorable guest experience.
“In 2014 we started to think about opening our own project based on our common experience. In September 2015 it was realized. We opened our first restaurant together and we decided to call it Contraste. Contraste for us means everything, the contrasts of the kitchen, between hot and cold, sweet and salty. Contrasts of consistency and certainly contrasts at the structural level. We have three different floors and three different ceilings. However, harmony reigns in everything, so we got inspired a bit by a photography: the more contrasting details, the more the colors stand out, the sharper the picture becomes. Contraste aims to be a “human” restaurant, a different restaurant, a restaurant with the characteristics of a large structure but with the humanity of a small trattoria. Therefore, we chose to have only 11 tables, enabling us to focus more on quality.”
Shortly introduce the three creators of Contraste?
“I, Thomas Piras is maître and sommelier, Matias Perdomo and Simon Press both chefs. We are lucky to have two chefs who are equivalent, who compensate each other and have been working together for almost 12 years. We have established an extremely strong relationship. One of the biggest strengths at Contraste is that all our departments are covered by professionals and partners, ensuring that we all row together in the same direction, towards a common goal.”
What is the philosophy and vision of Contraste?
“Contraste was born as an “experience restaurant”. Not a serious restaurant to be held in excessively high regard or which to be afraid of. Contraste wants to be a fresh, relaxed, fun and tasty experience. Based on the fact that not all our visiting guests are the same, we decided to make the most “tailor made” restaurant possible. Surely the restaurant has a very strong philosophy and identity both in the kitchen and in the service, but we tried, as I mentioned before, to build a great restaurant with the humanity of a trattoria.”
What does guest experience mean to you?
“For us the experience is all about the guest. Our symbolic open kitchen testifies this message. When you enter our restaurant, a small lock enables our guest to sneak peak into our kitchen, to see what is going on. At Contraste, the evening it not ours, it’s our guests.”
How do you manage to constantly push your limits and set new standards within guest experience?
“Matias with the help of Simon is constantly working on what is pushing our limits ensuring that we are always one step ahead. They do not settle with the first impact of a product, they transform it, but always with respect for the original flavor. It is very interesting that we have to study the Italian tradition together again as they are from Uruguay and an Argentina. They do so free of prejudices, not being somehow slaves of tradition, they take the tradition and make it their own thing. Therefore, they reinterpret it, they narrow it down, because we have to think of a large tasting menu. It’s very interesting to understand how often people are locked in with tradition, something that has always been done in a certain way, instead we present it again as a new thing, a personal thing that definitely characterizes the look of the kitchen in our restaurant. We focus on: flavor, tradition and innovation.”
Describe the guest experience at Contraste?
“We want the guest experience at Contraste to be something magical. Fortunately, we have a strong demand. Our waiting time for a reservation is currently over one month. One month is a long time to wait for our guests. We therefore try to spoil or guests already from when they make the reservation by sending out messages and reminders. Furthermore, we personally call the guests in advance to check for allergies and intolerances. We see it as the best way to provide our guests with a glimpse of what the experience at Contraste will be like.
Our restaurant is not visible from the streets, but there is a gate with no sign, you ring the doorbell, you open the iron door, enter a small garden which belongs to the old part of Milan, with a olive tree in the middle that symbolizes peace, relaxation and meditation. Letting us get away from the chaos in the city. At the entrance of our restaurant you’re welcomed by a statue of Matteo Pugliese that has become an icon, called “The secret” based on the idea of keeping our restaurant hidden. You are accompanied to the white table and from there the interaction with our philosophy, our restaurant and menu (which is a bit special) begins – the experience begins step by step. The dishes start coming out and continuously surprise one after one. Taste is always the base of our experience, but at the same time conviviality and class because of our elegant structure.
We fortunately have 20-30% of our guests who come to visit us who, when leaving the restaurant, book again. This was very important to us, not to be seen as just a restaurant where to go once a year, but as restaurant where to bring your friends, where to experience a different and fun experience. This has been very important for us.”
What are the menu options at Contraste?
“Specifically, we have two menu proposals. We have a slightly more classic menu with our 6-course signature dishes and one dessert. And then we have our Reflection menu: Our guest physically gets a mirror; the message we seek to deliver is that the menu becomes a reflection. Reflecting as a thinking, but also a reflection of their own tastes.
The reflection menu includes the dishes that we would like our guests to taste the first time he or she visits us, but which is also completely modified according to meet the desires and limitations of those who visit us. We also allow a table for three to have three different menus, our intention is to make the table “travel” together, but we are also willing to make completely different menus. Everyone is different and have different tastes, needs and different menu-lengths. Therefore, we try to listen and connect with our guests as much as possible. We do not just think about allergies and intolerances, but we like to think more about tastes, desires and sensations, by asking our guest to tell us a little bit more about themselves, to somehow “open up”. Technically, this is an approach we apply to break down the initial “coldness” often found between the guest and the restaurant. We want our guests to become part of the project, enabling us to continuously exchange what is going on.
We have a broader line compared to a traditional restaurant, which only has a tasting menu, we have almost 30-35 dishes, depending on the season, and based on what the guests tell us we compose a customized menu. This is somehow the idea of our restaurant. We do not offer our guests improvised dishes, they are all dishes that are thoroughly tested. There is a real respect for the dishes to our guest who come to visit us. We experiment during the afternoon. The menu is in fact blind, so the dishes are accompanied and explained both at a technical and philosophical level – what our kitchen thought at the time the dish was created. We are realizing that is an experience that is currently being chosen by 90-95% of our guests, so it’s a highly appreciated experience providing us with the incentive to continue inventing dishes and increase details.”
Describe the way your dishes comes to live?
“The dishes are born in different ways, certainly there is a continuous study of what tradition is. We play with all Italian territory with absolute freedom, we then add ingredients from all over the world. Ingredients reworked by us trying to make combinations that we think are very interesting. Again the taste is the foundation. Taste is the most important thing, so before playing as we do with shapes, texture and contrasts, we think about the taste, the final result we want to give to the dish. Then, with different elements, working on shapes and textures, we get to the final result, and finally we think of the aesthetic part. This is, more or less, what the process is, but as I said, you come to “the taste level” from a thousand of different ways: thinking of a journey, thinking of a plate of the tradition, of something you tasted, thinking of memories of a flavor. The memory is another thing that is very important for us, so we play with the memory of taste. We try to touch with a bite, a flavor, an emotional stage of the guest.”
“In a world of chefs we are cooks. We want our dishes to talk by themselves. We want them to tell you our vision on the kitchen. You have to take in count that our dishes, born from the contrast, never tell a single story: We play with the form and matter, we reinterpret the tradition with respect, and we innovate with decision, pleasure and precision” – Matias Perdomo.
What is the future ambitions of Contraste?
“The future of Contraste. Our idea is to do well, every day, to have 35 happy guests sitting in our restaurant every day, to have a full restaurant and to be a little better tomorrow than we are today. So, we always look at ourselves with critical, objective eyes and we always try and do better. There are so many projects, future projects, but we don’t want to say anything yet.
The idea is to build something based on who comes to visit us, we want to listen to our guests and build an experience together. As for our way of working, it’s is definitely not to settle down, we change our menu every two and a half months, only letting some signature dishes remain. We always work with the idea of never to be satisfied, keep trying, pushing limits, continually experiment and most importantly keep dreaming.”
What does it mean for Contraste to receive your first Michelin star?
“Receiving the star was certainly very important for us. It acknowledges our work everyday to do our best and make the most out of everything. Surely, it’s not the finish line. We see it more as the starting point. Our overall goal is always to satisfy those who come to visit us every day and those who have the patience to wait one or two months, hoping to thank them every night with a service that matches their expectations.”