Joia Vegetarian Restaurant is Europe’s first vegetarian restaurant to win a Michelin Star. Swiss chef Pietro Leemann initially consulted on the menu for the new vegetarian restaurant in Milan, Italy in 1989. One year later he bought Joia. His philosophy of ‘natural cuisine’ with his unconventional cooking style was often misconstrued. Joia Alta Cucina Naturale is centered around organic produce without meat.
Joia restaurant is intimate and incredibly understated. It is located in the city center of Milan, about a 25-minute walk from the Straff Hotel and the Milan Cathedral. The neutral colors are dominated by pale woods and clean lines. Accents of live green plants and artwork from Pietro’s travels are sprinkled throughout the restaurant. The front dining area of Joia is a more casual seating space, with a fine-dining space near the back. The kitchen, with more than 15 chefs, is positioned at the back of the restaurant to ensure diners have a quiet and peaceful experience. The cooking style, simple and delicious, draws from an Italian vegetarian tradition.
Joia started to gain culinary recognition in the 1990s when Pietro started creating original dishes with ingredients that emulated the textures of meat. Thus, resulted in the restaurant receiving Europe’s first Michelin Star for a vegetarian restaurant in 1996. All the ingredients used at the restaurant are organic or biodynamic origin, most of them cultivated by ‘friendly peasants’, and some coming from their garden in synergistic agriculture.
During my to Joia Vegetarian Restaurant, they offered four tasting menus – Discovery, Emphasis of Nature, Zenith, and Tuber Magnatum. Since these tasting menus change seasonally, they are the ideal way to explore different cuisine throughout the year. For example, Zenith is an eleven-course tasting offering a frolic of small courses that come one after another with a certain rhythm without beginning and without end. Food is conceived here as a vehicle for emotion and memory.
Joia dishes are imaginatively named and artistically presented. The following dishes I ate exceeded all expectations:
A Doorway to Heaven – well-done Savoy Cabbage, parsnip and leeks, almonds and corn emulsion, young beetroot pesto, and truffle steaming sorbet.
The Navel of The World – Pumpkin and finferli mushroom risotto with almond quark, sunflower seeds, and truffle butter, laurel, and juniper flavor.
The Alchemist – Dedicated to their good friend Stefan Wiesner, boiled vegetables with pumpkin, parsnip, burdock, and shitake, cooked with woods scented broth, green sauce, and wasabi sauce, and sauerkrauts flavored with juniper.
Italian-style Macondo – Gianduiotto terrine, salty pistachio ice cream, and green olives ice cream, quince soft froth, a contrast of lemon and confi caper.
The meal was perfectly paired with wine recommendations from their sommelier.
General Food Rules
Chef Pietro Leemann has several food rules that he conveys throughout Joia’s menu.
- Our body is part of nature, so if the foods we eat are not easily artifacts, we keep it healthy.
- It is important for our diet to be alternated with raw and more vital foods, with cooked and more assimilable foods from our body.
- The food we choose must be fresh and come from a nearby place, have been grown respecting nature and its seasons, cooked and eaten as soon as possible, no later than half an hour since it was prepared.
- Cooking vegetables must be quick and simple so as not to alternate their essence. The essence of food is the color, taste, and texture that together with the nutritional values and for different reasons, help to keep the body healthy.
- The fruit is better raw, cereals and legumes should be cooked well and with good water.
- The fat, which is essential for assimilating substances and for perceiving taste, must be added at the end of the cooking process, as well as aromatic herbs that are volatile for taste, but extremely important for stimulating digestion and pleasure.
- Spices must penetrate food and should, therefore, be added first; have the function of making them more assimilable and as for herbs to stimulate digestion and other functions of the organism.
- The cheeses are more suitable when fresh; if very seasoned they are assimilated with difficulty, they must then come from farms that respect the animals. If an animal is respected, the quality of its milk is better, from a nutritional and energetic point of view.
Joia Vegetarian Restaurant also organizes external events ranging from 10 to 500 people. These events can take place at private venues locally or internationally. They can arrange everything from a suitable location to just bringing staff and service. Everything from finger food for a party, buffets for a corporate event, to sit-down dinners for a wedding can be organized.
Joia – A Michelin Star Experience
Nature is the primary source of inspiration at this temple of vegetarian cuisine. Therefore, the menu changes regularly and is dependent on the fresh produce available from small farms surrounding the city of Milan. The dishes are always vibrant, full of shapes, and loaded in contrasts. Every plate is designed to express an experience for all the senses, not just the taste buds.