Contemporary pastry reflects the growing evolution of the gastronomic sector, driven by the creativity of pastry chefs and the desire to offer unique experiences to customers. Starting with this premise, let us delve into the story of Giusy Isabello and Mario Mandaro, the owners of “Pasticceria e Cornetteria L’Oasi” in Maiori.
Two Hearts and a Cotton Candy Cottage
Today, a pastry chef is a professional who goes beyond the simple production of sweets, aiming to create unique and engaging gastronomic experiences. Their mastery of traditional techniques combines with an experimental approach and an openness to emerging trends in the food industry. Giusy and Mario, business partners and life companions embody the modern pastry chef figure. Like chefs, they not only focus on producing, conceptualizing, and designing new dishes and menus but also manage staff, build collaborations with colleagues in the same field, stay up-to-date, and even could be active on social media to share their work, promote their brand, and attract customers. The two pastry chefs shared some emblematic details of their professional journey. Mario stated, “I studied at the hotel school in Formia because, although my family is originally from Maiori, we moved to Caserta. After graduation, I attended Alma in Colorno, the High Training School for Cuisine and Hospitality founded by Gualtiero Marchesi. Back in Caserta, I continued training at the Sweet and Savory Academy in Maddaloni, founded by chefs Aniello Di Caprio and Giuseppe Daddio. After my studies, I gained work experience first at Capri Tiberio Palace for several years and later at the Michelin-starred Danì Maison in Ischia, under the chef Nino Di Costanzo. It was there that I met my better half, Giusy; she was an intern in Ischia, and amidst vanilla clouds, cotton candy, and flour, our love story and professional union began.” This Ischian experience was highly significant for the young pastry chefs, inspiring them to launch the project of opening a pastry shop with a laboratory in Mario’s hometown, Maiori, a beloved village with its seaside hamlet and fragrant, golden lemons—the treasure of the Amalfi Coast.
L’Oasi: A Small Technological Hub Blending Tradition and Innovation
Located at Via Orti 20, in the building of the once family-managed Pensione L’Oasi (initiated by Mario’s grandmother), a stone’s throw from the promenade, Corso Reginna, and Collegiata Santa Maria a Mare, you’ll find the Pasticceria e Cornetteria L’Oasi. Mario, affectionately tied to its property, has managed to fit all the machinery used in contemporary pastry into a small yet comfortable space, creating a counter with a display for retail sales. In winter, L’Oasi is a pastry shop, and in the morning, it serves as a coffee and croissant bar. In summer, croissant production triples, with openings until late at night, and there’s also the opportunity to taste some savory pastries like parigine and pizzette. Mario continued, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. I’ve worked, sweated, and strived to realize this small, big dream. Then, I met my better half, united by the same passion. We worked together, grew together, and together we decided that our small, big dream had to become a reality. And here we are; we inaugurated the place in August. Incredulous and ready to face a new chapter in our lives.” Giusy and Mario’s desserts feature the use of innovative ingredients and unusual flavor combinations, often inspired by new gastronomic trends. They reflect particular attention to the aesthetic presentation of sweets, with artistic decorations that may include elements like sugar sculptures, chocolate mirror glazes, and food paintings. They combine specific techniques with interesting contrasts between textures (crispy, creamy, spongy) within a single dessert. Giusy added, “Our flagship items are modern cakes presented both as whole cakes and as individual portions, such as the ReBabà created by Mario. It has a cocoa shortcrust base, topped with a rum baba sphere with hazelnut cream filling, and an outer layer of dark chocolate mousse. Finally, it’s sprayed with cocoa butter and partially immersed in a mixture of two chocolates, white and dark. We also focus on traditional Campanian pastries, and being half Calabrian and half Sicilian, I try to transfer my regional knowledge here to Maiori, passed down from my family. Then, we have the cornetteria (croissant section) with a wide selection of pastries for breakfast. The croissants come in French and Italian dough, introducing new shapes like cubic or spiral, and the creams are all made by us; in fact, the croissants are filled on the spot.”
Artisanal Panettone, Mario and Giusy style
The famous Milanese leavened bread, historically low and not tall, is the protagonist of numerous legends regarding its origin, with the most accredited dating back to the 15th century in Milan. According to the most widespread legend, linked to Ludovico il Moro, during the Christmas season, he was organizing a sumptuous feast in his court. Unfortunately, the head pastry chef of the palace burned the Christmas sweet prepared for the occasion. In an improvised effort to remedy the situation, one of the kitchen assistants, a young boy named Toni, used the available ingredients, including raisins, candied fruit, and butter. The result was an extraordinary sweet highly appreciated by the guests. Ludovico il Moro was so impressed by the creativity and delicious novelty of the sweet that he decided to call it “pan de Toni” in honor of the inventive pastry chef. The word “panettone” may have originated from this story, although there are other theories about its linguistic origin. Over time, the recipe spread, and the sweet became known as “panettone.” The success of panettone grew, but it initially remained confined to Milan. Over the years, the tradition of panettone spread throughout the country and beyond Italian borders, thanks to the ingenuity of Angelo Motta. Today, panettone is a symbol of the Christmas season and is prepared and consumed in many parts of the world. Its recipe has been interpreted in multiple variations, adding ingredients such as chocolate, candied fruit, cream, or liqueurs. Fascinated by leavened products in general, Giusy and Mario are captivated by the beauty of this sweet and, following meticulous steps, offer it in various versions, ranging from traditional to more unique ones with white chocolate and coffee dough, Vesuvius apricot skin and dark chocolate, pistachio, and chocolate. Listing them like this may seem easy, but an excellent panettone requires high-quality raw materials, long leavening, sourdough, and perfect steps. Giusy emphasized, “The traditional panettone is prepared with flour, sugar, eggs, butter, sourdough, raisins, and candied orange peel. The preparation of panettone takes time and care. The dough is generally worked and leavened several times, typically three, to ensure a soft and light consistency. The long maturation gives the panettone its airy structure. It has a tall cylindrical shape with a dome on the top. Its structure is soft and airy, characterized by a light crumb. Glazing is the final stage after baking and resting each piece upside down to prevent it from collapsing.” Initially skeptical, the pastry chefs realized that the product was well-received and persevered in production, reaching two hundred panettones.
Mostaccioli, susamielli and struffoli
Alongside panettones, traditional sweets, chocolate pralines in various flavors, and Christmas cookies in shortcrust pastry decorated with royal icing are also on offer. Susamielli are conventual sweets of Greek origin. Born in the Santa Maria della Sapienza convent in Naples in the 17th century, they are called “Sapienze.” Always present on Campanian tables alongside raffiuoli, mustaccioli, roccocò, struffoli, and divine loves. Mario and Giusy do not neglect some of these rarities, also paying homage to tradition. “Our susamielli are packaged with organic honey, Sicilian almonds, and the typical pisto. The same goes for almond paste and mostaccioli, which we glaze with fine chocolate. I remember that in Maiori, when I was a child, there were also suricilli al cioccolato, small sweets like filled mostaccioli but shaped like Easter anginetti. I am trying to gather all the information and recipes from the past because I intend to revive these almost disappeared and forgotten products.” The art of preparing sweets is much more than executing recipes perfectly; it is a true gesture of love.