Antonia Klugmann


Antonia Klugmann

Despite starting later in life than most chefs, Antonia Klugmann quickly made a name for herself by cooking unique, multicultural dishes on the Italian-Slovenian border. She continues to learn whenever she can, and her hallowed respect for incredible produce makes her food some of the best in Italy.

It wasn’t until halfway through a law degree that Antonia Klugmann fell in love with food. Born in Trieste to a family of doctors in 1979, her younger years were very academic, but after attending a few extra-curricular pâtisserie courses at a local culinary school in 2001 she decided to return home and become a chef.

Antonia’s first four years in the industry were spent at Harry’s Grill, where she was mentored by chef Raffaello Mazzolini. Once she’d mastered the stove there, she travelled all over Italy, working stages wherever she could and absorbing as many regional dishes, techniques and cuisines as she could. Unfortunately, this method of learning was cut short after a car accident meant Antonia had to stay at home for almost a year.

During her time in recovery, Antonia decided to start her own vegetable garden and quickly gained a newfound respect for the ingredients she tended to. She also began putting together plans to open her own restaurant once able to work again. This finally happened in 2006, when she opened the Antico Foledor Conte Lovaria in Pavia di Udine, Friuli-Venezia Giulia with her partner Romano. Just three years later, she was shortlisted as one of the best emerging chefs in northern Italy.

In 2011, Antonia travelled to Venice to work at the Michelin-starred Il Ridotto, which specialised in seafood and Venetian cuisine. A few months after arriving in the city, she decided to start devising ideas for a new restaurant, until she received a job offer to work at the Venissa on Mazzorbo, a Venetian island. ‘I couldn’t say no,’ she says. ‘I fell in love with the place and it was a huge opportunity that helped my career.’

After working at Venissa for three years, Antonia and Romano decided to open their own restaurant for the second time. In December 2014, L’Argine a Vencó opened for service north of Venice in Dolegna del Collio, near the Slovenian border. Surrounded by vineyards, the small farmhouse restaurant has already won a Michelin star and makes the most of the fresh produce and herbs Antonia fell in love with when tending to her vegetable garden. Being based on the Italian-Slovenian border means her cuisine celebrates diversity, and plays with unusual flavour combinations to create dishes like no other. ‘I come from a place where there is a mix of cultures and influences,’ she says. ‘I am part-Serbian, part-Austrian and my grandfather spoke four different languages. Being based on the border means I can cook traditional food in a non-traditional way.’

Much of Antonia’s food and the way she pairs flavours together is down to her admiration for chefs such as Ferran Adrià, Massimiliano Alajmo and Pier Giorgio Parini. ‘I think they’re geniuses,’ she says. ‘They showed us a new way or working. I think Pier Giorgio is the best chef of our generation – every time I cook with him I feel I am always one step behind.’

When it comes to ingredients, some of Antonia’s favourites are blue fish and anchovies – produce which is rarely seen as a special or luxurious food. ‘What really excites me is working with something that people don’t think of as a precious ingredient. I love to see the beauty where others cannot.

‘I don’t like to talk about revising traditional cuisine,’ she adds. ‘I like to invent. Invention, however, is always the result of a past knowledge, experience or tradition. This is what people find when they taste my dishes.’