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Marco Stabile, only barely 41 years old, is the chef of the restaurant Ora d’Aria in Via dei Georgofili in Florence. The location can’t be beat; it’s just around the corner from the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio. At the entrance we are welcomed by a lovely birdcage with the hatch open. The bird (the restaurant’s logo) has been let free to enjoy his leisure time too. The premises, once a cart storage space, have been carefully designed in every detail, the furnishings, the colors, the graphics for the original lunch menu, designed by the illustrator Biscalchin, to the completely on view kitchen, always true to the pursuit of refined elegance that is original, but never over-stated. It serves as the perfect calling card for the project that Stabile has been pursuing for almost ten years. He is all about bringing tradition up a notch with well-conceived, contemporary creative versions of classic Tuscan cuisine. His efforts have been very well received; in December 2011, he won the most coveted recognition, his first Michelin star. He has helped make Florence one of the world’s capitals of fine food.

We asked him how big of a role tradition plays in his work. He answered that it has a huge role in the choice of ingredients and basic pairings, then given a modern twist. He always pursues innovation in techniques, though with an approach of simplicity and lightness in exalting the flavor of the components of each dish.

It comes as no surprise that Stabile says the primary ingredient in his dishes is extra virgin olive oil, which is the true hallmark of Tuscan cuisine, giving each dish a special quality in its different varieties.

Marco Stabile has traveled at length and brought back from every trip ideas and techniques to be applied and re-conceived for his inventions. What is it that makes Italian cuisine so unique and beloved worldwide? He answers that, without question, it is the quality of the ingredients, the excellence of our foods (tomatoes, mozzarella, meats) combined with the technical skill in making the most of them to serve a clean, light dish.

A procession of stars and luminaries have sat at his tables and appreciated his inventions, from Hillary Clinton who simply enjoyed one of his artistic caprese salads, to Radiohead who enlivened an enormously convivial evening. We asked him who his ideal couple of guests would be. After a moment of hesitation, the answer is easy, yet sophisticated, modern, yet age-old, just like his cooking: Marilyn Monroe, the icon of female sensuality par excellence, to whom he would of course serve only Crystal, and Gioacchino Rossino, who it turns out was a sophisticated gourmet ahead of his time.

oradariaristorante.com