In conversation with Luca Pronzato from Somos ONA, the collective leading a new wave of culinary talent

Luca Pronzato, the founder of the creative culinary collective We Are ONA, needs no introduction. Turning the traditional restaurant experience on its head by breaking it up into immersive pop-ups from Milan to Mexico City, sommelier and restaurateur Pronzato creates unconventional dining experiences in mysterious and often disused spaces. More recently, the nomadic sommelier and restaurateur is putting down roots and opening a We Are ONA food studio in his hometown of Paris, just around the corner from where he settled with his young family.

Founded in 2019, we are ONA — “ona” which means wave in Catalan — is a catalyst to empower young chefs by giving them the opportunity to explore their talent and the freedom to express their creativity. The result of this source of inspiration is quite special and has become a reference in the gastronomic circuit, the chefs serve local and sustainable products of the highest quality. Drawing an artistic crowd from around the world, We Are ONA is becoming a transitory hub where artists, writers and designers can meet like-minded creatives, no matter which art fair they head to next.

Born in France and raised by an Italian father and a Spanish mother who ran an Italian delicatessen on rue des Petit Champs in Paris, questions about good quality products were part of the daily life of this 30-year-old visionary. So it came as no surprise that he worked in restaurants and bistros before interning at Selosse Champagne when he was 18 years old.

“At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I was passionate about wine, winemaking, food, and service,” says the young entrepreneur. “I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I was also curious about how things were done abroad.”

His thirst for knowledge of the sector led him to travel for almost a year, during which he visited 30 countries, soaking up how things were done in other places. “It was an exceptional way to learn a lot and meet amazing, talented people along the way.”

When he returned to Paris, the idea of ​​a nomadic restaurant concept began to take shape that could bring together first-class local products, the savoir-faire of chefs and natural wines from all over, without being limited to a single space.

“Before setting up anything, what I wanted to do next, something that I felt was missing from my experience, was to work in a renowned restaurant. So I spent the next three years working at Noma in Copenhagen, Mirazur in Menton and Central Restaurante in Lima, which were incredible experiences for me, being able to work with chefs and teams of that caliber, again allowed me to learn a lot about the operation, the service and how to take care of diners with very high standards, food and wine knowledge.”

When Noma closed and went to Mexico, Pronzato followed. “It was an eye-opening experience because I saw what it was like to open a new restaurant in a new place where you have to build a network of producers, farmers, winemakers… it was a challenge”, he explains. “And that’s when I realized that what I loved most about the industry was this element of challenge.”

After his various experiences and travels that took him around the world, when it was time to return to Paris, he knew he wanted that transitory lifestyle to continue, and in 2014 he created We Are ONA, the global culinary influence collective. today.

“The idea was to keep traveling around the world as this community of creative chefs, producers, winemakers, farmers grew. I wanted to help them express their creativity. I wanted to help the young chefs I was meeting to travel and share their cooking with people in everywhere”.

We Are ONA pop-ups began to take place, some overlapping, all over the world, from Costa da Caparica in Portugal to Kaplankaya in Turkey via Paris, Basel, Mexico City, Lisbon, Arles, Venice, Milan and Zermatt. “It was a great operation to have several pop-ups going on at the same time, as well as our events for brands,” explains Pronzato. “It was certainly intense, but it was fun!”

When Covid hit, the company’s momentum ground to a near halt until they launched We Are ONA food baskets and then began filming chefs making recipes at home. Without resting on its laurels, Pronzato set out to launch a new brand, canetta, natural wine made by small winegrowers that is presented in single doses in red or yellow cans. “I was filming wine tastings while we were all cooped up at home, and I was throwing away so much wine for these tutorials. That’s when I got the idea to sell a glass of wine in a can.”

In addition to pop-up experiences for a select group of diners who get a seat at sold-out dinners, the We Are ONA team also designs events for brands and has worked with big names like Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès, Chanel and Jacquemus. “We worked on absolutely everything, from venue scouting to chefs, as well as all the set design, from flowers to lighting. And that’s what I love: this challenge, once again, to build something amazing out of nothing. every time, that’s going to surprise people.”

The wow factor of each popup is woven into every aspect, but the most memorable is probably the location. Usually offbeat and secretive, scouring cities to find the perfect spot is what Pronzato loves. “The idea really is to find a place that is unique and that goes well with the theme of our pop-up or event. It’s also a way to discover parts of a city you never knew about! I remember once, I was in Venice, desperately looking for a place for our next pop-up, which was fast approaching and only on my way to the airport as i was about to leave, my taxi driver told me about this palace that casanova was rumored to live in, but that was nothing known. I went to see him right away and he was perfect!”

So what’s next for the clan? Having finished their last pop-up of the year with the brilliant Thomas Chisholm of Chocho restaurant in Paris in a former garage, they have launched a year-long chef residency with first place award-winning chef Jacob Harth of Portland, Oregon, known for their seafood, designed by India Mahdevi at the Hotel Condesa in Mexico City.

There is more to come before the year is out. “We’re also opening a food studio this month, just a few steps from here,” Pronzato says, eyes bright with excitement, pointing to the paved path we’re sitting on, veering off into the distance. “The idea is to have up to 24 people for dinner, maybe do something like nightclubs, and use it as a laboratory for creating dishes and collaborations between chefs during the day.” And it doesn’t stop there because it also has a food and restaurant app on the way with over 400 must-try places. “Having traveled far and wide, trying different places and foods over a number of years, I thought it would be a shame not to share some of my favorites. And it fits with who we are: sharing our love of food and creativity everywhere.”

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