Davide Scabin (chef propietario del restaurante Combal Zero). Fotografía de Alessandra Tinozzi.

Davide Scabin, chef owner of Combal.Zero restaurant: `I´m not an artist, but an industrial designer´

A creative and clear minded man, with an sparkling sense of humour, the chef owner of Combal.Zero carried in the suitcase the Identity Taste (IT) to madridfusion. This new system, designed by him, allows the standardization of the best personalized foodservice to each customer.

Davide Scabin. Fotografía: Alessandra Tinozzi.
Davide Scabin. Photo: Alessandra Tinozzi.

Far from being just some shrewd devices, IT, the Liquid Salt System and the Skube are deeply rooted inside a shift in Scabin´s creative process, which is being hatched by the chef for several years.

To the question: Has been born Davide Scabin in a pot?, the chef replied: “No, but almost. I began in 1978 and there´s a long time from this year till today. Nearly all my lifetime devoted to this profession “.

Round 30 years performing a gourmet proposal, which can be defined as everything but anodyne. Scabin offers an interactive experience in each dish. Round 30 years performing a gourmet proposal, which can be defined as everything but anodyne. Scabin offers an interactive experience in each dish. No boredom will be delivered to the client, who decides to dine at this restaurant, which was stablished in 1997 and moved to the Modern Art Museum of Rivoli, a Piamontese town near Turin in 2002.

“The ludic aspect is important,” explains the chef, “but not exactly in a sense of game. More than fun game I would say, a certain sense of humour. But not within the kitchen itself, but aiming to the clients’ enjoyment. The idea is making clients become aware of the taste of the products, including the ones, to which they are used but whose flavour, whose texture… has never been actually noticed by them”.

Past ideas, not just for fun

Cyberegg, Piolakit, Hambook, participation in an Internet portal, www.akwa.org., Chococube…Even a video in which the chef explained the steps of his creative process.”All that is far behind”, he told us.

Although “the past keeps on returning again and again as a boomerang does”, said Scabin a little bit annoyed, the owner of Combal.Zero explained the meaning of two of his most well known creative dishes. First, Cyberegg, which celebrates its 10th aniversary in 2008. He told about Piolakit after: “Cyberegg born as a way of putting all the diners at the same level before the culinary experience.

The double capsule, where hiding the content, prevented against any chance of association with something known, with the cultural tradition of each client. The content hidden within the capsules gets directly to the palate, to the sense of taste of each one. Though we don´t offer Cyberegg now, I think that we will celebrate its 10th birthday in 2008, through including Cyberegg again in the menue”.

Piolakit, a reference to tradition

Fun, even for revival concepts, there was no lack of a reference to the most popular tradition at Scabin´s conzeptual stage: “Piolakit was, the word itself tells it, a box, in which they were included some dishes deeply rooted in the Italian gastronomic tradition, eg. the pizza. The word piola means tavern, the typical Italian tavern. People used to play cards in taverns. That´s why it was also included a deck of cards in Piolakit.

Fachada del restaurante Combal.Zero.
Restaurant Combal.Zero (fachade)

We usually gave this box at the end of the meal. It was a sort of token a sort of memento. And I say `it was´, because we finished with Piolakit on 10th Jannuary 2007. Since this date I´ve changed my way”.

No museum at the restaurant

Davide Scabin considers himself as a food designer. Although the restaurant is placed inside a museum, the chef thinks that Combal.Zero is not an exhibition room: “I am a foo desingner in an industrial sense.I mean, I´m not an artist. A chef is not an artist. If we could cook a dish just once for a couple of people, it could be said that a chef is an artist, but we can do this no way.

Each time that we design a dish, we must take into account a range of practical considerations. As it happens when designing a piece of furniture, each dish must be something functional, something to be used. Each dish must meet a taste requirement, a visual aspect requirement, its design must also make possible the best and most efficient system to serve it.

As it happens in the case of furniture or clothing, we must be able to repeat a dish lots of times. So, chefs are not artists. Our work, our creative approach has more to do with the work of a furniture designer, of an industrial designer or of an architect. All this precisely because of that functional aspect”.

Designs to match business requirements

Scabin serves a ravioli dish inside a tube for shaking. He explained that, he could not find any other way to measure the exact proportion of sauce and pasta in order to reach the adequate texture.

De izda. a cha. y de arriba a abajo: Tonno di Coniglio, Chococube y Gelatina di Rosa

Left-right and up-down.- Tonno di Coniglio, Chococube and Gelatina di Rosa

Explaining again the food designer concept, the chef added: “A restaurant is a business, and this fact need also to be taken into account. If I devote myself to this, it is in order to make money. So each dish should be feasible from this point of view. In this sense I think that the chefs are not artists but designers.
Sometimes, whenever I´ve said this thing, for example here in madridfusion, some people have reacted very badly, but this is what I think “.

Creative through his five senses

Referring to Showerfood, the chef explained: “Showerfood is something, that we only did once in 2001. It was a sort of collaboration with an hotel, a concept for the room service.

When someone arrives tired at the hotel, usually take a shower. The shower changes our mental and physical way. Feeling more relaxed, our body and our mind are fit for resting or fun. We aimed to achieving the same effects through a range of small dishes, which the customers could order and get served at their respective hotel rooms”.

To the questions, how is it triggered the creative process?, and how does the ideas come to you?, Davide Scabin


replied, while `cherishing´ the sofa where he was sitting: “In my case it is not always a product, which makes an idea emerge. It may be something that I read, a situation, an idea, a texture…For example, this same texture, the texture of the cover of this sofa”.

Moving from concepts to pleasure, the new approach

The owner of Combal.Zero looks now towards a future based on the pleasure, more than on concepts: “What we do now is not so evident on the plate. Apparently there´s not much to see on the table, but all that we offer is the result of a shift in the creative process.

It now consists of the following stages. At the begining it is located the birth of pleasure. The question is: How doing it?, how to bring the greatest pleasure for the client?. Then it comes the emotion. After, it comes the experience and, finally, the memory. Piolakit is located on this last stage, but Piolakit was a gift, a memory to be carried by the clients. Well, we are now creating dishes for the memory, food traditional, but the dishes come after all this creative process, which I´ve explained before.
I started with this new creative process 2 years ago. It means a return to simplicity, to the basic tastes”.

IT, the result of a deep meditation on salt

“IT is a system that allows to know how they are perceived the basic flavors (salty, sweet, acid and bitter) by each client “, explained Scabin. “To these basic flavors it has been also added a test to determine the perception of the spicy, which is not a basic taste matter, but interesting to know”.

Interior del restaurante Combal.Zero.
Restaurant Combal.Zero (interior)

“First, we make a test and then we record down on the card which are the preferences, the perceptions of the client. The point is getting to know how the client perceives each, getting to know what he prefers, in order to put into the dish just the precise amount of salt, etc., required by the palate of each one. The idea is delivering to each client the greatest pleasure through palate”.

IT is not something improvised: “More or less 4 years ago, I began to think about salt. Everything comes from this.
How do I know, if I am putting too much salt to cook the dish?. Getting the exact balance is not an art. It is not something that I can decide myself, because my palate is not the palate of the person, who is going to eat the dish. Another item to take into account is, how it works salt when cooking food. The Liquid Salt System, the Skube and the IT – card of taste- were born that way”.

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