Francesco Bracali


Francesco Bracali

From eating bread and ragù as a child to running a two-starred restaurant in Tuscany, Francesco Bracali has stayed true to the area's local flavours and has helped bolster the region's already famous foodie credentials.

Born in Massa Marittima on the Tuscan coast meant Francesco Bracali was introduced to good food from a young age. His first memories of food involved sitting down to a traditional Tuscan Sunday dinner at his grandmother’s house, where he would be given a slice of bread with a small portion of ragù for breakfast.

These early family memories certainly piqued a culinary interest in a young Francesco, but it wasn’t until he was fourteen that he began experiencing life in a professional kitchen. His parents bought and opened a small osteria (an informal restaurant serving wine and simple dishes) and put Francesco and his brother Luca to work in both the kitchen and front of house when they weren’t at school. Despite the long hours and lack of free time, the pair relished the lifestyle, and Francesco decided to making cooking into a career.

Throughout the 1980s, Francesco began to work under some of Italy’s most prominent chefs. This was the only way to become respected in the culinary world back then – there were no celebrity chefs or TV shows to go on and become famous. Legendary chefs such as Gaetano Trovato and Valeria Piccini helped shape his cooking style, but it was Gianfranco Vissani, a two-starred chef from Umbria, that really had an effect on Francesco. ‘Different chefs have been very important during my career, but with Gianfranco I learnt so much,’ he tells us. ‘Our dishes now have a sort of culinary symbiosis.’

Despite honing his craft under some of the Italian greats, Francesco was always careful not to just replicate what they were doing, and to always follow his own path. ‘Truly creative people never copy someone else’s work – they can learn from them but then go on to do something personal,’ he says. ‘It’s hard to describe my creativity, but when I put a plate of my food down in front of you it all makes sense. Some of my dishes were born spontaneously, others took a little while longer, but I am always more interested in the journey we have to go on to achieve something. I’ve always been curious and listened to what everyone has to say.’

Francesco eventually got to the point where he wanted to open his own restaurant, and when the opportunity to buy one with his brother (who had become a respected wine sommelier) in his hometown of Massa Marittima came about, he jumped at the chance. In 1994 the doors to Bracali were opened, and Francesco began to truly develop his unique signature style.

Six years later, Francesco became the youngest European chef at the time to win a Michelin star. His reputation spread even further, outside Tuscany and to the rest of the Italy and in 2012, he received his second star, cementing his status as one of the great Italian chefs of today.

Francesco’s cooking encapsulates everything fantastic about Tuscan cuisine. Despite working in kitchens across the country with chefs that took inspiration from all over the world, he has always stayed true to his roots and used the fantastic produce he grew up with as a child. ‘The most interesting thing about Tuscany, with all its traditions and history, is that there are products and ingredients waiting to be rediscovered and developed,’ he explains. ‘You can divide the region into many different areas, each of which has its own flavours, foods and dishes.’

This doesn’t mean Francesco relies on age-old, simple recipes which can be found in other restaurants, however. He combines incredible complex cooking techniques with innovative combinations of ingredients to create a new kind of modern Tuscan cuisine. ‘I know my cuisine is not easy to create – you have to have a complex dish that’s different but you don’t want a mix of ingredients on the plate that don’t work together at all.’

The world of professional cooking has certainly changed since the 1980s, when Francesco was gaining experience. The wealth of information available to those at catering college is massive and the glamour associated with the industry thanks to TV shows has changed the way people view the profession – something Francesco thinks might have a negative impact. ‘Nowadays, chefs can find help no matter what sort of cuisine they want to cook. When I was young, the only restaurants in Tuscany where you could properly learn were Arnolfo and Caino. I think young chefs are always going to become great performers, but I’m not sure if they will always become great chefs.’