Tastes at the station, with Federico Prodon

by Maria Pia Mazzotta

Cultures and territories to be discovered through the most delicious of the five senses: taste. Federico Prodon, Chef and Pâtissier, takes us on a journey through flavours that begins at Roma Termini, the FS Group’s intermodal hub, a crossroads of histories and cultures. Arrivals and departures invade the Mercato Centrale area, which is home to the sweets shop born from Federico’s great passion for baking. From broker to taste explorer, Federico designs and prepares delicacies in the heart of Rome, his hometown and laboratory of ideas, where tradition blends with the innovative techniques of modern pastry stirred by creativity. Because that of sweets is first and foremost an art, a magic capable of delighting.

Hands in the dough in mamma’s kitchen and the scent of bread baked many years before are the origins of this story. Federico tells us all about it in the small boutique that has become a point of reference for gourmet travellers.

How did your passion for pastry-making come about?

I started cooking as a young boy whilst my mother was working. My grandfather was a baker and this makes me think that the first spark was in the DNA. Dedication, training and experimentation. I took several courses and realised that pastry-making fulfilled me. Because, unlike cooking, it is based on precision, on chemistry, aspects that really stimulate me and that connect to my university pathway. I learnt to dose the ingredients using formulas, to process the fresh products by studying each individual component.

In 2014 came the turning point on television, taking out third place in Bake Off Italia – they called me the Pastry Surgeon – and soon after, I would write my first book. I knocked on Feltrinelli’s door in Milan with 15 designs of tarts, a sweet that represents our tradition. This idea convinced the Publishing Director to go to print in 2016.

Roma Termini is a crucial junction for your business ...

I recently opened a workshop in Borgo Pio, a historic neighbourhood at the base of the Vatican. But I wanted to be connected to an even broader universe. So, I did not let the opportunity pass by to open a boutique inside the Mercato Centrale, adorned and customised in a welcoming way. After all, a sweet is a genuine pampering and can be so also at the station. The purity of the ingredients is the protagonist of my philosophy – I am a craftsman and I like this dimension of the workshop, far removed from industrial logic.

Travel and sweets: a perfect combination

I love travelling. I have travelled a lot, guided by a strong curiosity that allowed me to discover new cultures. Bringing the history and origins of a sweet to the mouth of a traveller, in a setting like that of the Mercato Centrale, is a rewarding experience. People arrive here, luggage in hand, to be inspired by the colours in the shop window and before they leave, often send me photos with my cake boxes. Travelling is also a source of inspiration in my work. I like to create sketches of the sweets whilst on the train and observe the landscape from the window.

The sketch comes about in different ways, even with my eyes closed, while sleeping. When I wake up, I grab my paper and pencil to give form to my dreams. Thus, was born a dessert in the glass, the protagonist of my second book, which represents an inverted garden: a rum glass with fruit and flower buds. The sketch is always the starting point, to be enriched and transformed through new ideas.

A life on the move. What does each departure leave you with?

Every place in Italy has its own richness. I am always seeking out the best ingredients, on a journey that allows me to discover the beauty of our country but above all, to guarantee quality and highly sustainable products. From North to South, ours is a generous land and my task is to enhance the unique factors of each region. My suitcase holds specialities and recipes that become sensory experiences. My sweets have a typically French aesthetic but the soul and taste are authentically Italian.

Sustainability for the Protection of the Planet. Can you be green even in the kitchen?

There are small tricks and everyday actions that have great sustainable value. In my workshop, we are very careful about saving energy, from electricity to primary commodities like water. The second step is to collaborate with environmentally-friendly companies. Equally important is the choice of recyclable materials for product packaging. The entire process – from sourcing the ingredients to processing and selling – has a green footprint. Sustainability is the secret ingredient, a “vice” that is impossible to give up.

Just like that of chocolate, the undisputed king of Federico Prodon’s pâtisserie.