We met Cristiano Strozzi and Elisa Zuin, respectively pastry chef and cake designer at Caffè Florian. They’re about to reveal us the secrets of their laboratory, where the delightful bites that celebrate the love and tradition of Venice take shape.
How was your passion for cuisine and bakery born?
Cristiano: «First, I attended a hospitality school. I worked at the Florian during the summer, then I fulfilled my internship here, to which followed my recruitment. At that time, Caffè Florian did not have a cooking laboratory: I could say I created it, starting to serve sweet and savory food productions.»
Elisa: «Before joining the Florian, I used to create monumental cakes in collaboration with a friend, who runs an ice-cream store. I entered Florian’s laboratory first to see, learn and understand how this job works in a larger reality. It was the very first time I visited one, and something immediately lashed back. I asked to do an internship, after three months the chef called me back… and today I am the Caffè cake designer!»
How is it, to work in the most beautiful parlor of Venice? Is it correct to say that you are the creators of Venetian bakery? How do you feel with this regard?
Cristiano: «Working here is amazing. Caffè Florian is a historical place, therefore an institution for the city. It’s enough to think that it will turn 300 next year. In general, we tend to be a little more modest: we don’t picture ourselves as pastry heroes. However, sure is that we love our job, we like doing our best, and knowing that our guests appreciate it is our greatest satisfaction.»
What’s your favorite sweet/savory creation? What do you like most preparing and what is most appreciated by the guests?
Elisa: «We mainly prepare cakes belonging to the Venetian tradition: we elaborate and renew the original recipes according to our style. Furthermore, we do not serve large cakes unless requested: the creations the costumers find on the counter every day is in single portions, each one garnished as if it were a jewel. The most classic dessert is also the most wanted one, and we refer of course to Tiramisù, but also the ricotta cake is very appreciated. However, we focus both on the sweet and the savory, looking back to the traditional and considering the seasonality. The experience we offer at Caffè Florian is deeply linked to its history and cares about the first matters.»
What inspires you when you create new delicacies?
Cristiano: «Nowadays, cuisine and bakery are extremely widespread. Beyond the inputs that everyone receives, we have many chances to meet many colleagues. From there ideas arise and they often turn out to be interesting. When we arrive in the laboratory, we set to work and make attempts, taste and choose what to serve and how to do it.»
In greater detail, how does your laboratory work? What synergy is there?
Cristiano: «I give the orders!», he laughs. «I bring the recipe to the laboratory, and then we begin to prepare it. Upstairs there are the administrative offices: we also involve those employees, who willingly lend themselves and act as tasters. Then they provide us with feedback, and we start working on it again based on what they said: each new creation evolves thanks to the collaboration of the whole staff.»
Picking from the Florian’s menu, what would you recommend to young couples, newlyweds or to lovers who have spent their life together?
Elisa: «We always advise couples to rely on their taste and instincts. All in all, what gives us directions is their preferences. With the tourist flows we discover that very often, based on the origin of the customer, there are ingredients or preparation that are most appreciated.»
Let’s get to the most special of your offers: the wedding proposal “Marry Me at Florian”. What kind of requests do you receive from the future grooms and brides?
Cristiano: «We usually deal with the boyfriend. It works like this: he contacts us, and we explain to him how things will go on that day, depending on what he chooses from the three Marry Me at Florian options. After that, we focus on how to make the cake. From tastes to aesthetics, the customization is total: basically, it is a team effort together with the customer. Thanks to my colleague and the pictures portfolio, we design how the cake should look till the last detail, such as a specific color rather than a quote. We tend to hear discreet requests, as in the spirit of the Caffè Florian. In addition to the cake, what is fundamental is the ultimate romanticism to impress the girlfriend: we do not receive particularly extravagant requests for the occasion, they tend to prefer taste and elegance.»
How does a Florian made marriage proposal happen?
Elisa: «We offer three options. The first one is the “classic”, which well suits those with simple but refined tastes, who wants to give a unique emotion to the soulmate. Then, there are the “deluxe” and the “luxury” options, which give the opportunity to have lunch or dinner with a tasting menu, extending the stay at the Caffè. Moreover, the “luxury” offer includes the choice of an entirely dedicated room, and a one-hour photo shoot, which can take place inside the Florian, or outdoor, in St. Mark’s Square. In all three cases, in addition to the orchestra, the flowers, and the cake, we cannot fail to mention the beauty of the setting: it makes a fundamental contribution to success.»
Cristiano: «Then the big day arrives. The clients sits down in the chosen room, where our musicians are already ready. They begin to play as soon as they get a sign, and a waiter approaches bringing the glasses of champagne or Prosecco, along with the cake and a bunch of flowers. At that point, the girlfriend usually melts and starts crying, then he kneels and proposes. Immediately after the “yes”, the entire St. Mark’s Square exults and applauds the future spouses. At the base of our offer, there is the romantic vocation of the restaurant: Caffè Florian has always been sought after for its unique atmosphere even by the couples of lovers.»
In the Marry Me at Florian packages the lovers’ cake, the tasting menu and the “Florian Afternoon Tea” stand out. What is the latter and what is its history?
Cristiano: «From 3 pm to 4 pm we serve a selection of sandwiches, macarons, and typical English homemade scones, on silver upstands with jam and whipped cream, to pair with the afternoon tea. The customer can choose between our original and exclusive blends. Like every option on our menu, first and foremost the coffee, also tea blends are made specifically for us: thanks to the marriages of fragrances, we try to evoke and convey the almost 300 years of history of the Florian and Venice. We could say that it’s a different way of involving the customer, something that only we offer, and we couldn’t be prouder of it.»
Referring to this, Caffè Florian branded products are available both in your shops and online. Why did you decide to do so?
Cristiano: «In the beginning, our branded products were born because of the customers’ requests. Over time, Caffè Florian has become a strong brand and also our costumers have changed: now they are mainly tourists, who want to bring home a keepsake from our Coffee. We carefully chose every ingredient, aiming to uniqueness: the blend of our coffee is unique, the teas and infusions combine various ingredients linked to the history of Venice, such as the spices of the East. Those are served or sold exclusively in our shops. Behind every product, there is a story and, in addition to the local administration, we also choose to sell it online to extend the experience, even after leaving Venice.»
One last question: how do you feel when he or she finally say “yes”?
Cristiano: «Of course, when things go for the best, we are proud. Up to now, we’ve had 100% positive answers, and we dare to save for us a little part of the credit.»
Elisa: «The relationship with our clients is all-round: we pamper them the from beginning till the end, even after their experience here. Therefore, it is natural to grow fond. Being a Cafè, we have an unusually close relationship with them. They get back in touch with us, send us gifts, call us for information about the dishes they tasted here! For instance, we published a book with our recipes last year and it happened that they called because something was not clear!»