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Nadia Santini

By the 1990s, Nadia had gone from knowing very little about professional cooking to one of the most respected and accomplished chefs in the world. But while she and Antonio had inherited the restaurant from Antonio’s parents, that didn’t mean the rest of the Santini family left the nest. Quite the opposite – Nadia will be the first to tell you that none of Dal Pescatore’s success would exist if it wasn’t for the four generations of Santinis working together both front and back of house. Antonio and Nadia will eventually hand the reigns to their own children, ensuring the future of the restaurant is just as bright as its past.

‘We inherited this restaurant from Antonio’s parents, who had previously inherited it from his grandparents, so we are going to give it to our children,’ explains Nadia. ‘I am very happy they believe in Dal Pescatore in the same way we believed in it when it was given to us. Our children were born and raised in this house – they were taught how to fish by their granddad here – and were given the chance to travel and experience the world before coming back here. Being a chef means you have a chance to make people happy, and I am happy that my children really understand that.

‘I want to give Alberto and Giovanni complete freedom in the kitchen,’ she continues. ‘They have seen the evolution of this restaurant and the sacrifices that have been made, and they know our purpose isn’t to become rich or famous, but just to get by doing what we love. All we want is for people to come here and leave knowing they had a good time and would like to come back here again.’

Nadia’s children have already worked in the restaurant for many years now – Alberto is the sommelier helping Antonio run front of house and Giovanni is in the kitchen, getting ready to take the head chef role in the future. Bruna, Nadia’s mother-in-law, still helps out in the kitchen from time to time, and Giovanni’s wife Valentina has been welcoming diners into Dal Pescatore since 2007. And while he’s still very young, Lorenzo – Giovanni and Valentina’s son – makes up the fifth generation of the Santinis, and no doubt will be helping out in any way he can when he comes of age.

For now, however, it is Nadia’s cooking style that attracts the world’s foodies to Dal Pescatore. While trends and fads may dictate the food served in restaurants based in the cities, the tiny hamlet where Dal Pesatore is based provides solace and tranquillity, with a more traditional, classical way of doing things. The serene surroundings, warm welcome and family atmosphere is just as important as the food on the plate – and Nadia knows this only too well.

‘I’m a firm believer in ethnopsychology and how being in a certain environment dictates what you want to eat,’ she says. ‘For example, if you were given a Caprese salad after three hours of climbing or visited Capri in the summer and were given venison with polenta, it wouldn’t be right. Swap those around, however, and they will taste amazing. Here, when it’s cold and foggy, we will make soups with potatoes and truffle or chickpeas and pork rind. These are dishes no one makes anymore, but I was taught how to make them and if I stop that tradition will be lost.’

Given her credentials, it’s no wonder that Nadia is held in such high regard by her peers. She has been called an ‘inspiration’ by the UK’s Angela Hartnett and ‘extraordinary’ by Anne-Sophie Pic – proving her influence extends far and wide across the globe. Her reputation is so inexorably linked to Dal Pescatore that it’s almost as if she was born into the role. Her sons are ready to carry on Nadia’s legacy when she eventually decides to hang up her chef whites – but for now, it’s her effortless ability to make simple, classic, beautiful dishes sing that cements Dal Pescatore’s status as one of the great Italian restaurants of our time.

Three things you should know

Nadia was the first female chef in Italy to be awarded three Michelin stars, and in 2013 she was named World’s Best Female Chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Nadia starred in a documentary by Lutz Hachmeister called Three Stars, which featured a variety of chefs who had been awarded the top accolade by Michelin.

Nadia’s signature dish is pumpkin tortelli, which is a very traditional dish from the nearby city of Mantua.