If pizza and pasta are Italy’s two most well known culinary exports, risotto must be a close third. Half the rice grown in the country used in this famous dish comes from Piedmont, and there are risotterias – restaurants specialising in risotto – peppered throughout the region. Christian and Manuel Costardi run one of the most highly regarded risotterias at Hotel Cinzia, originally built by their grandfather in 1967. It’s here that they pay homage to rice, serving it in modern, inventive ways to diners who travel the world over to taste their risotto.
The brothers’ story starts with Christian, the older of the two, who knew he wanted to be a chef ever since he was given a dolce forno (a type of toy oven) at just three years old. He attended catering college at fourteen with the aim to win a Michelin star for his cooking, and immediately started working at his grandfather’s Hotel Cinzia in Vercelli, west of Milan. Manuel is nine years younger than Christian, but followed in his footsteps as soon as he was old enough. His interests lay in the sweeter side of cooking, however, so he decided to hone the skills needed to create stunning sweet dishes at the Four Seasons in Milan with Sergio Mei. He finally joined his brother in 2005, and the pair took the reigns at the hotel.
Christian instantly put Manuel in charge of the desserts. ‘Manuel loves making the desserts, but I hate them,’ he explains. ‘You have to check and weigh everything exactly, whereas savoury dishes mean you can break the rules. I’m the leader but Manuel is definitely more organised. He could cater a meal for a thousand people with no problem, but I’d struggle.’
The brothers won their first Michelin star in 2009, thrusting them into the culinary spotlight and turning them into ambassadors for Piedmont and its most famous export. In 2015, they won a Lavazza Prime award for Best Espresso Coffee in L'Espresso Guide, proving that even their coffee is world-class.
Their four tasting menus are named Evolution, Passion, Emotion and Territory – all topics Christian and Manuel care deeply about. ‘Evolution is our largest menu, consisting of ten dishes,’ says Christian. ‘Passion is our homage to the film The Silent World, directed by Jacques Cousteau, and every one of the dishes represent different themes in it – stone, sea, ground, grass, blood and smoke. We think it’s important to represent the fishermen who catch our prawns and the farmers who grow our tomatoes, which we do in Emotion. Finally, Territory is how we showcase the very best of local produce and Piedmont’s history, which is why we include panissa on the menu, a traditional dish made with red wine and beans.’