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A family affair

A family affair

by Katie Smith 23 October 2015

Italy’s deep connection between food and family is no more evident than in its top restaurants. We take a look at the siblings running the restaurants at the cutting-edge of contemporary Italian cuisine, delving deeper into the stories behind these internationally acclaimed partnerships.

Food and family are intrinsically linked in Italian culture. Italy’s cuisine is steeped in history and traditions that have been passed down through generations. For many Italian chefs their first memories are cooking along with their parents and grandparents in the family kitchen, learning the basics of traditional dishes and being introduced to the secrets of the family’s favourite recipes.

With cooking side-by-side as children the norm, it is perhaps not unsurprising that so many Italian siblings and family members partner together and go on to culinary success; founding their own restaurants or, in classic Italian style, taking over the family business. These chefs have grown up together, sharing those same first culinary memories. In fact, maybe it is this unique family relationship which allows them to identify one another’s strengths, and weaknesses, thereby contributing to their success. A prime example of this are the Costardi Brothers, who together run the Michelin-starred risotteria at Hotel Cinzia, an establishment originally founded by their grandfather in 1967. When Manuel joined his brother Christian in the running of the restaurant in 2005, Christian put him straight to work on the desserts. ‘Manuel loves making the desserts, but I hate them,’ Christian explains. ‘I’m the leader but Manuel is definitely more organised. He could cater a meal for a thousand people with no problem, but I’d struggle.’

However, the Costardi Brothers are not the only foodie siblings to have partnered together and gone on to win culinary acclaim. Enrico and Roberto Cerea might’ve trained separately in world-renowned kitchens and culinary schools, but when they returned to Italy to take on the reigns of the family restaurant it was not long before Da Vittorio secured its third Michelin star. Clearly their individual experiences as young chefs, coupled with a unique fraternal bond, combined to create a winning formula. Brothers Giorgio and Gian Pietro Damini also joined forces to set up internationally celebrated deli and restaurant Damini e Affini, which carries on their long family tradition in the high-quality butchery business. The two brothers split their responsibilities at the restaurant, with Gian Pietro sourcing and preparing the meat and Giorgio overseeing the kitchen.

Other formidable sibling enterprises also extend beyond the kitchen to the front of house. This is no more apparent than at the Michelin-starred Ristorante Marconi in Bologna, where chef Aurora Mazzucchelli works alongside her sommelier brother Massimo to create a unique dining experience. Pairing wine and food is a delicate art, but it seems that by combining their expertise in both branches of the culinary tree, the Mazzucchelli’s have discovered the perfect balance.

A common theme which runs throughout these culinary cooperations is the mentorship of other family members. This is summed up by Enrico Cerea, ‘my parents instilled in me a love for gastronomy and taught me how to be serious, to be professional and how to truly love the profession’. This family inspiration can still be felt in the dishes they create, even if they have been reinvented and refined, such as the Cerea Brothers’ recipe for Paccheri with tomato sauce and Parmesan, which comes from their father Vittorio.

In addition to reinventing family dishes, many Italian chefs look to the nostalgic flavours and aromas of their childhood when devising original dishes of their own. Chef Gaetano Trovato grew up on the island of Sicily where he says, ‘there is a long tradition of great taste in our region. My family always used products that came directly from our farms, so I've known these powerful flavours since I was a child – beautiful, colourful flavours that followed the sequence of the seasons’. He now delivers the Sicilian flavours of his childhood to diners in his Tuscan restaurant Arnolfo, which he runs with brother Giovanni and other members of his family.

This strong family influence also goes beyond cooking skills and recipes, extending to the ingredients and produce themselves. At the heart of Italian cuisine is the high-quality, fresh, local and seasonal ingredients available right on the country’s doorstep. Therefore it is no wonder that Italian chefs pride themselves on using only the best regional ingredients, often sourced from family farms. Andrea Sarri is no exception; the Michelin-starred chef runs Ristorante Sarri with his wife Alessandra in Prino, Liguria, and relies on his uncle Fanio for the vegetables and olive oil on his truly locally-sourced menu.

While family cooking culture might be a significant influence on the Italian culinary scene, these cheffy siblings are certainly not bogged down by tradition. In sharing the same first culinary memories, while also following their own paths, these chefs epitomise the unique combination of familiarity and innovation which are the cornerstones of contemporary Italian cooking.

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