Joia, Europe’s first vegetarian restaurant to win a Michelin Star

14 May 2021

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joia Photo: @mchiarag of Cabbage and Mushroom Strudel from Joia.

Anyone and everyone who follows either the plant-based space or the global foodie scene has surely heard the news that Eleven Madison Park, one of the world’s greatest restaurants, is going plant-based. As champions of sustainability and plant-based living, we applaud Chef Daniel Humm and his colleagues for making this move towards sustainability. At the same time, we also want to celebrate the chefs who have already made this move, and shine the spotlight on one chef in particular, Pietro Leemann of the restaurant Joia in Milan, Italy.

Joia in Italian means joy. Which is why the word is perfect as the name of this very special restaurant. The chef and owner behind Joia wants to look after the planet and animals just as much as he does for his customers.

Pietro Leemann, who is considered a great innovator in vegetarian cuisine, opened Joia in 1989 with the vision of elevating vegetables and showcasing them in a fine-dining establishment. Seven years later, Joia became the first vegetarian restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star, giving Leemann recognition for accomplishing his goal.

“My father was a friend of the great chef and gastronome from Switzerland’s Ticino Canton, Angelo Conti Rossini. One day as a guest in our home, Conti Rossini brought us a charlotte russe, vanilla custard crowned with ladies fingers. I was dazzled. It smelled of fragrant cookies and delicious vanilla. It was almost as light as air and all but melted in my mouth. The taste lingered and was just rich enough. I ate at least half of it and understood where I was headed in my life. I decided when I was 15 that I wanted to be a chef,” Leemann has explained in his restaurant’s website.

Once Leemann entered the profession, he was fortunate enough to be mentored by Fredy Girardet di Crissier, one of the masters of Nouvelle Cuisine, in Switzerland. Leemann has also been highly influenced by Gulatiero Marchesi and his style of Italian creative cooking.

The restaurant itself is understated, elegant and rustic. At Joia, the menu is 80% vegan and gluten-free and has an avant-garde feel. Leemann’s food is filled with colors, textures and flavors from across the world. Dishes are often inspired by Leemann’s travels to China, India and Japan.

The ingredients used at Joia are organic and biodynamic. Most are cultivated by peasants near Milan or come from their gardens through a system of synergistic agriculture. The menu at Joia, as the dishes are highly dependent on fresh produce, changes seasonally.

The dishes are evocatively named and Leemann is known for his elegant plating as much as is his culinary skills. The Navel of The World, one of his signature dishes, is a Sicilian risotto with artichokes and homemade miso in a carrot ring. Another is Under a thin blanket, a pesto made with Savoy cabbage core, broad beans and thyme falafel, truffled sauce, chestnuts, lightly smoked ricotta cubes, crispy sage, pomegranate and other surprises.

Image Photo: @alessia_vegghy

For Leemann, food is his way of sending a message. “Essentially, the purpose of my life and the reason for which I run my restaurant is to serve food that is both health-friendly and planet-friendly, and therefore good for all its inhabitants, not centered on human beings but inspired by the principle that we are all beings who have to live together in harmony,” Leemann said in an interview.

If you’re a member of abillion living in or visiting Milan, make sure to add Joia to your checklist. It’s significance cannot be understated and we hope that more fine-dining chefs consider offering plant-based menus, or even doing what Joia, and now Eleven Madison Park, have done, which is to go fully plant-based.

If you’re a restaurant owner who wants to benefit from the growing conscious consumers on our app, claim your business here.

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@david- profile image
david-1 YEAR AGO
Need to visit asap
@grungess profile image
grungess1 YEAR AGO
A was there only once but it was an unforgettable experience for my eyes, stomach and soul!
@hereforareason profile image
hereforareason1 YEAR AGO
Beautiful dishes!
@dmmtt5m profile image
dmmtt5m1 YEAR AGO
So glad to hear this! Hope to be able to visit sometime.