Giorgio and Gian Pietro Damini

Giorgio and Gian Pietro Damini

The only Michelin-starred butchers in Italy take the country’s best meat and use it to create simple, traditional dishes in their artisan shop and restaurant just outside Vicenza. Gian Pietro takes care of sourcing and preparing the meat, while Giorgio heads up the kitchen.

There’s no denying that butchery is an important, artisanal craft, but in the world of restaurants it rarely takes centre stage. For brothers Giorgio and Gian Pietro Damini however, it’s at the heart of everything they do. Their small deli and restaurant in Arzignano, a little village near Vicenza in Veneto, only has ten tables, but the duo’s dedication to using and preparing the best quality meat they can find has attracted international acclaim.

The Damini name has been associated with serious, respectable butchery for just under a hundred years. In the 1920s, Giorgio and Gian Pietro’s grandfather opened a shop in San Giovanni Ilarione, a small village northeast of Verona. Every week, the restaurant owners and butchers in the area would visit the farmers to witness the birth of new animals, and keep an eye out for any stock they liked the look of. ‘There was no official classification of breeds back then,’ explains Gian Pietro, ‘so people had to rely on their own knowledge and skill to choose the best meat.’ Sixty years later, the brothers began accompanying their father to these farms, to learn how to choose the best meat for the family business.

While Gian Pietro followed in his family’s footsteps and became a butcher, younger brother Giorgio was more interested in what happened to the meat after it was prepared. He wanted to learn how to enhance its natural flavour, and began playing around with curing methods and cooking techniques. He trained in some of Italy’s top kitchens, working with top chefs such as Fabio Tacchella at Le Saucier, Giancarlo Perbellini in Verona and Nadia Santini, the first female Italian chef to win three Michelin stars. He returned to the family in 2007 and, with his brother, opened Damini and Affini in Arzignano. His simple approach to cooking traditional dishes using seasonal ingredients led to a Michelin star in 2014.

Giorgio travelled throughout Europe to pursue his dream of becoming a successful chef, but for Gian Pietro, everything he needed to become a master butcher was right on his doorstep. His father’s and grandfather’s teachings meant he knew how to choose the best meat and he had been helping out in the family shop since the age of eight. After the brothers’ father died in 1989, Gian Pietro ran the shop with his mother, then worked in a supermarket to gain a better understanding of running a successful business and how meat is butchered on a large scale. It wasn’t until he met his partner Fortunata Bertozzo that he realised he wanted to run his own business. Gian Pietro didn’t want to simply open a shop where people came to buy meat; he had visions of a deli and restaurant which would cover every aspect of artisan food. When Giorgio returned, the pair joined forces and his dream became a reality.

The pair now serve some of the best meat dishes in Italy, many of which were passed down through their family. Wild garlic and ricotta ravioli with lamb soup and Raw beef with tomatoes and mozzarella are both recipes their grandfather gave to them, while their Iberian pork ribs with breadcrumbs and asparagus is a typical, simple dish which allows the flavours of the ingredients to shine through. ‘We learnt everything from our father and grandfather,’ says Giorgio. ‘Now we can select the best meat and turn it into all sorts of fantastic produce.’

Family is at the heart of everything the brothers do, but they do lock horns from time to time. ‘It can be frustrating when Giorgio always wants the meat to be exactly the same, every time,’ explains Gian Pietro. ‘But we always work it out in the end! Behind the scenes of any great restaurant, a good butcher is one of the real stars. Family is incredibly important. I’m so lucky to be able to work with my brother and our partners.’