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Archive for the ‘Food in Italy’ Category

It’s already bad enough that I have to be so far away from Italy right now, but on top of that, I’m completely tortured by the separation from the food in her restaurants!

San Francisco is a big, big foodie city known for its fine, cutting-edge dining, exquisite winemaking, and a strong, Italian-American heritage.  Whenever possible, I eat in Italian restaurants but honestly, lately there seems to be something missing.  The Olive Garden just isn’t cutting it for me any more.

Dining in Italy is the sum of its parts; a package deal where food and wine don’t tell the whole story – relationship, personal connection and graciousness are also part of the equation.  When I am in San Francisco it’s not so surprising then, that the places I feel the most comfortable and want to frequent are those owned, operated and staffed by native Italians. Ristorante Ideale in North Beach is one of my favorites. (Read 7 Tastes of Italy).  Owner and Chef Maurizio Bruschi creates a scene that makes the walk through his door, a walk into Rome. 

…and then there was dinner last evening at Ristobar in the Marina District.  The food was amazing in taste and presentation, but the icing on the cake was a personal visit to the table from the new Chef de Cuisine, Michele Belotti from Bergamo – young, talented and an artist with food.  I was transported again…this time just a little farther to the north.

Ristorante Ideale: http://www.idealerestaurant.com/; 1315 Grant Ave, SF 94133 (415)391-4129

Ristobar: http://www.ristobarsf.com/; 300 Chestnut Street, SF 94123; (415) 923-6464 

by Toni DeBella 

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February, 2009

A friend was visiting on a sunny, frigidly cold winter’s day when most people would have preferred to stay indoors and keep warm. Not us. We hopped on a bus that dropped us in Bagnoregio, then hiked up to the footbridge to the top of Civita’.

CivitaCivita’ di Bagnoregio (“the dying town”) is located 145km north of Rome in the region of Lazio, overlooking the Tiber Valley. The village seems to float above the earth in a cloud, but has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the world’s most endangered places; the town is slowly crumbling and sliding down its cliffs.

This little borgo has always had a strange allure for me (as it has, I’m sure, for millions of others who have experienced visited). The atmosphere that day was a little eerie because there didn’t appear to be any other souls in town (except  two ambling cats in the main square). It’s a favorite stop of tourists in the spring and summer, but on this February afternoon, the streets were quiet and deserted; underscoring the heartbreaking reality of the city’s inevitability. I’ve visited Civita’ three times in my life. The first was as a tourist. The second was as a dinner guest at the home of a friend (which was pretty amazing considering there are only a dozen residents remaining in this little hamlet). My last visit was by far the most memorable.

A small sign hanging in a courtyard is the only indication that there’s a thriving business inside a grotta at the end of the enchanting patio. Bruschetteria L’Antico Frantoio is too tiny to be called a cafe’, and the menu is too limited to be a restaurant – so it’s simply called a “bruschetteria”. I imagine it’s like no other bruschetteria in Italy. The Rocchi family has been operating this iconic destination of travelers for decades with its 1500 year-old olive oil mill (frantoio) in the back. The mill, which still functions (although it’s retired) has been in the family since 1520. Today, the family’s Agriturismo “Le Corone” in a valley nearby produces all of its oil.

On this day, Felice Rocchi was our host and chef. A remarkably efficient use of space, there is only a fireplace to grill the bread, a counter to assemble and serve the bruschetta and wine, and a few tables covered in tablecloths. I think we were Felice’s only customers that day and since we were in no hurry to return into the freezing wind, the three of us passed a very pleasant afternoon talking and eating the most amazing olive oil-soaked bruschetta and drinking the freshest house red wine. We chatted about Felice’s family, got a private tour of the Etruscan well in the cantina, and together devised a kooky plan to help bewildered Jtourists how and what to order. He promised us a cut of the projected profits from our little scheme, but I think when I return, I’ll ask for my share to be paid in bruschetta.


by Toni DeBella

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Two extraordinary women and cutting-edge chefs embarked on parallel life paths that take them on separate journeys of discovery, leading them to their passion for food and wine. Both were born in tiny farming communities in the fertile and luscious region of Umbria. They returned to their ancestral home of Orvieto, Italy, where their paths finally cross to reveal a serendipitous family connection and, as a result, they form a special bond of friendship and sisterhood. I’m extremely lucky to know them, both individually and together, and I love telling their story – it’s a story of how fate can bring surprises in the simplest ways…surprises that might be waiting for you just around the corner – or, in the case of Velia and Valentina – in your own backyard!

Velia’s story

Velia De Angelis’ family’s love for cooking dates back many generations to her great, great-grandfather Giuseppe “Peppe” Chiasso. Nonno “Peppetto” would prepare meals for the workers returning from the countryside and, as the story goes, Peppetto couldn’t help inviting everyone in the village to join them at their table – sometimes more than 30 people would be found eating in the courtyard! Just like her great-grandfather before her, Velia takes pleasure in sharing her enthusiasm for cooking, food and wine. She believes food can be the key to understanding lands, regions and people. Maybe it’s archetypical memories or the family stories passed down from generations before her that helped form Velia’s unique and creative way of cooking and inspired her to endow this gift to others in a most vivacious and effervescent way!

Velia was born in Monterubiaglio, 7km from the Etruscan hill town of Orvieto. She studied to become a primary school teacher, but in 1996 she left Italy for the United Kingdom – following her dream to create a life full of exciting and new adventures. Graduating from the University of Derby, she returned to Italy with the Virgin Company to launch the opening of Palazzo Sasso, one of the most luxurious and elegant hotels on the Amalfi Coast. It was in Positano that she opened her first cooking school and fell in love with the local cuisine of this spectacular seaside region. In 2006, Velia returned to Orvieto with her partner in life and business, GianLuca Antoiniella, and opened the energetic, trendy and late-night, La Champagneria. Along with her cooking school “Velia’s Cooking Style”, she appears weekly on “Chef Per Un Giorno” (Chef For a Day), a popular television program filmed in Rome.

Valentina’s Story

Valentina Santanicchio was born and raised on an organic farm in the feudal town of Ficulle in the countryside, 20km outside of Orvieto. It was there that she learned the importance of fresh, local and sustainable products. Located in the “Green Heart of Italy”, this region of Umbria is the capital of the “Citta’ Slow”(Slow City) movement. For centuries Italians have been thriving on “La Cucina Genuina” (genuine/authentic cuisine): Seasonal fresh ingredients and produce, locally grown and simply prepared. Returning to Orvieto after years living in Florence, Valentina’s appreciation of the deep traditions of food and wine that surrounded her as a girl had resurfaced. She took a position at a small cafe in the medieval center of town and fell in love with cooking and the restaurant world. In 2009, at the young age of 28, she opened Ristorante Al Saltapicchio, a bright, warm and instantly-popular restaurant located on the Piazza San Domenico. The perfect mix of modern ambiance and classic, authentic dishes, Valentina’s charm and energy bring something special to her innovative menu.

Velia and Valentina

I met both Velia and Valentina in the winter of 2009, nearly one year before they had been introduced to each other. It’s late February and I am back in Orvieto for my bi-annual pilgrimage to this town that I love. Valentina, Velia and I are sitting at La Champagneria late one evening, laughing and talking about life. They remind me of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz – it’s like they’ve been best friends their entire lives. It’s astounding to me that they actually managed to live, go to school, work, become chefs, open restaurants and, in a town of only 5,000 people, not collide until two years ago. Velia remembers that from the beginning she felt they were strangely connected. Valentina laughs about how they often finish each other’s sentences, are so similar in appearance (both are beautiful blonds) and approach life with the same fearlessness and audacity. It was discovered one day, by chance, that Velia’s grandmother helped to raise Valentina’s mother, Velma, after the death of Velma’s mother at a young age. To Velia and Valentina, this surprising revelation was the confirmation of what they knew in their hearts – they are “la famiglia.”

These two remarkable “forces of nature” have now combined their efforts to bring their innovative spirits and unique cooking personalities to special events and guest-hosted dinners in Umbria and throughout Italy. They have a tireless work-ethic, an unending wealth of energy, and are bottomless pits of enthusiasm. I get tired just thinking about their long hours and grueling schedules. But Velia and Valentina remain bright lights – original, strong, passionate and visionary. They are very different women, yet they are very much in tune – they are “le sorelle d’anima: Soul Sisters”.

YouTube Video:

You can see and taste the work of Velia De Angelis at La Champagneria, Piazza Marconi, 2, 05018 Orvieto (TR), tel. 0763 344102, e-mail info@champagneria-orvieto.com; at Velia’s Cooking Style, Via delle Coste, 2 – 05010 Monterubiaglio (TR) Tel 0039 338 94 63 464 | e-mail: info@veliascookingstyle.com; www.veliascookingstyle.com; and on “Chef per Un Giorno” at LA7.tv

Valentina’s Santanicchio’s wonderful Ristorante Al Saltapicchio can be found at Piazza XXIX Marzo 8/a, 05018 Orvieto, (TR). Tel. 0039 339 66 72 909. See interviews with Valentina at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXIq6Q_o5cg; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YRgDKP2R48; and you can read about her in an upcoming article for Conde Nast’s Traveler.

by Toni DeBella

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