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Maria Grazia Soncini

As soon as she finished school, Grazia joined the family business full-time. The food has always recreated those fondly remembered, relaxed, home-made family dishes, without all the bells and whistles some restaurants fall foul of. Thanks to this homage to simplicity and comfort food, La Capanna di Eraclio won its first Michelin star in 1999 and has held it ever since. Grazia’s mother Wanda still helps out in the kitchen, making the whole business a true family affair.

What sets Grazia’s food apart from the rest of Italy’s many rural trattorias is her dedication to using fantastic produce. Codigoro, where her restaurant is based, is known for its fabulous game, and being situated right next to the river Po means freshwater fish are abundant. The sea is only a mile or two away, and the fruit and vegetables at Grazia’s disposal are some of the best in the country. A lot of the fresh fish entering the kitchen is only hours out of the water, and the chefs will clean, prepare and fillet them on-site – much like Grazia did with frogs when she was younger.

Grazia is a big fan of anything bitter – radicchio is a particular favourite – but it’s the seasonal game of Codigoro that really gets her excited. This, combined with her traditional, relaxed approach to cooking and presenting food, has turned her family’s humble, rural restaurant into something known across the country. She’s incredibly passionate about her hometown and thinks it’s this loyalty that makes Italy so renowned for its cooking. ‘The food culture of Italy is amazing – every region has its own salamis and ingredients,’ she says. ‘Life is food here; it’s connected to everyone’s social lives and the smell of certain dishes takes us back to when we were children’

Three things you should know

The atmosphere in Grazia's restaurant has changed very little since 1922, with the decor and interior paying homage to traditional Italian trattorias; just the way she likes it.

Grazia is a huge fan of Voghiera garlic, a local ingredient which is more pungent and fresh tasting than more common bulbs.

A lot of the octopi and fish served at the restaurant is still alive in the kitchen just hours before cooking, to ensure maximum freshness.