The pianist and composer Francesco Tristano was born in Luxemburg in 1981. He studied at the Luxemburg, Brussels, Riga, and Paris conservatories before graduating from the renowned Julliard School in New York. The creative drive of this prominent figure in the international music scene has led him into the realms of both classical composition and electronic music.
In the following conversation, Francesco Tristano, featured in the event recently held by bulthaup at the Flowers by Bornay space, touches upon subjects as diverse as the relationship between inspiration and the instrument, the parallels between cooking and playing music, the central, magnetic role of the kitchen within the space of a home, and the ritual of cooking and its introspective quality, while also telling us about his personal connection with his bulthaup kitchen.
An early passion
I never asked myself why I wanted to be a pianist. I guess the issue just never arose. By the time I asked myself that question, it was already too late–I was already doing it. I was at the piano, making music. And I was very grateful for that; I think many kids have a difficult time in their teens because they don't have a point of focus. In my case it was much easier, because by the time I was twelve I was playing the piano every day and I knew I was going to become a musician.
Playing, cooking, growing
My mother always says I spend more time in the kitchen than at the piano, but it's actually the same thing. If you think about it, the piano's a piece of furniture, right? And so is the kitchen; the kitchen is made of pieces of furniture, it's structured, and doesn't really move. You can roll a piano a few meters here or there, but really it's a very stable element in the house. I started playing on an upright piano. Eventually, when I was thirteen or fourteen, I moved to a grand piano. So, since we're talking about analogies, my first kitchens were very basic kitchens, one was even a gas stove. I remember building a kitchen with my girlfriend at the time. There were some very shady builders who actually took off before they finished the kitchen, so we had to finish it on our own. The upgrade came three years ago when I got my first bulthaup.
The role of the kitchen in the home
When I was a student, I lived in a small but rather nice studio apartment in New York City, and it had a small kitchen. I used to have my friends over, and I'd cook for twenty or thirty guests. I would make food for everyone–pasta, for example–and I realized that nobody was spending time in the apartment.
We had 30 people in a tiny, tiny little room, and that was where the party was. I realized that the kitchen really was the fundamental place in the house. So I never really understood why the kitchen should have walls–the kitchen is a central piece, and it should not be surrounded by walls, it should be an open space. And that's what we did in this apartment, in this loft which actually doesn't have many walls, except for the four walls that define the space. We put the kitchen in the center of the house, where the light is best, and built this three-meter long island. I turned out that it just became the central meeting point. Everything that happens in this house is around this island.
A place for gathering
I grew up with my Italian grandmother and she basically spent all day, every day in the kitchen. And that was just making regular food: when she made a special dinner, with tortellini or ravioli, it would become a very thorough endeavor that took hours and hours, and my great-grandmother would join in, and I would join in–in fact, everybody would join in around the table, making tortellini together. So, for me, it's the central space of the house, but it's also the place where I find time for myself. For example, when I'm done with my practicing and I take a break, I come straight to the bar, sit down, and I make myself a cup of coffee or tea. When I start cooking, I realize it's actually very close to a performance. It's very close to what a dancer would call a choreography. You calculate your movements and you optimize them. Everything goes into the taste, eventually. There's a very blurry line between what is part of the taste and what is peripheral. In bulthaup, this is a very important point, the functionality of every little detail, and I'm referring to the materials, the ergonomics of, for example, the drawers... You don't have to apply any pressure at any point, you don't have to make any effort. Everything is calculated so that you're free to make a sculpture out of your own cooking. And it really becomes a kind of performance.
The kitchen is the central area. Not only does it connect all the surrounding spaces, but it actually naturally attracts people towards the center, in the sense that when you enter the house, or when you leave my studio and you go through the apartment, you end up in center, which is where the stove is, and also where the central point of light is. It's a point of attraction, but a very natural one. It doesn't have any bright colors or aggressive shapes; it blends in with the space in a very discreet yet beautiful manner. It reminds me of a Japanese garden, where you don't have any object that really captures the eye or the attention; it's a work of detail, where you have let time go by and realize that your gaze has fixed on one object or another. And this is the case in our kitchen, I think. We spend our time there, we don't really realize why it is that we're all constantly sitting at the counter, but it's because the energy is a very positive one.
I’ve been interested in the ritualistic aspect of cooking for some time, and it seems like humans developed the idea of cooking also as something to be enjoyed together as a group, whether it’s with your family or friends. When I’m in my kitchen I extend this ritual to the actual rite of cooking.
I find that I get so much pleasure out of little details, whether it's the angle of the b1 drawers, the depth of the drawers themselves, the material–a very strong material, a material that, just like a piano, inspires sturdiness and steadiness–and then, when I’m into my ritual of cooking, into preparing food for the people I love, I realize that these people naturally gather in the kitchen, and we spend a moment of love together.
Inspiration at the piano and in the kitchen
Inspiration might be overrated as a concept. Of course, as composers, we want to be inspired, we thrive on being inspired, but the truth is that there are many days when inspiration doesn't come easily, because there are so many other things to think about. More importantly, what I need in order to do my work is the right instrument. This is my instrument, the grand piano. In the kitchen it might be the same thing: you don't necessarily start off with a big inspiration, for example of blending some Thai flavors with olive oil and throw in a little Japanese nori, but when you have the right instrument–I'm talking about the stove and the cooking gear–then you just get into the flow, and you start cooking and come up with great things.
The many moments to cook
Any moment is the best moment to cook. I love to cook at wild hours, I love to get up in the middle of the night–if I've got jet lag, for example–and start to cook like crazy. Just the other day I got back from Japan and by 5:30 in the morning I was cooking at full steam, and by 6 my wife was downstairs and it was the happiest moment of the day. The whole house smelled like food.
I think I cook best for myself. By myself and for myself. A very dear friend of mine, a great cook, cooked a very good meal for me many years ago. It was an unbelievable, unforgettable meal. And I realized that when he was cooking, his face changed, his facial expression sort of turned off. It was kind of scary to see. I don't think he wanted me to see it, but he couldn't help it; when he was cooking he was transformed. And that makes me think that great cooks are solitary. And I can identify with that, because as pianists or composers, we are also very solitary. We spend our time by ourselves, alone, preparing for the next concert or the next show. Similarly, chefs spend hours and hours alone in the kitchen, cooking for themselves. And maybe after a while they have some people over to taste their new creations. Then, eventually, they offer a performance, the presentation of a new dish at a restaurant or a cooking fair. So I think the solitary moment in the kitchen, when you alone are faced with your instrument–the kitchen–and the cooking gear is fundamental.
The first meal with bulthaup
The first time I used my bulthaup kitchen, I wasn't sure whether I was going to go for the full culinary experience or just prepare a sandwich. So I went to the market and I got some shellfish and some nice herbs and tomatoes and I made a big seafood pasta. And basically, within a half hour, the kitchen was going full steam, and it was like I was baptized: I was baptizing the ritual of using my bulthaup for the first time. And it has been going full steam ever since.
There's not a day when I don't play my piano, and there's not a day when I don't use my bulthaup.