Dal Pescatore's Nadia Santini world's best female chef
Restaurant magazine raises status to number one04 April, 18:38
It was there tucked in a picturesque corner of the Oglio Sud nature reserve on a country road in a village of approximately 38 souls that she learned her craft from her husband's grandmother Teresa and his mother Bruna.
Broad-smiled mother-in-law Bruna, said Nadia speaking to a group of journalists in 2011, is unstoppable and moves with such rapidity that one has to watch her to understand her magic. "There's just no explaining some of the techniques she uses," said her daughter-in-law Nadia. "She cooks with her hands, eyes and instinct - something that she passed on to us".
That instinct, and an ever-growing fan base fed by it, have continued to propel the legendary restaurant into 'must-go' lists, reviews and guides.
Seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the northern Italian hinterland between Cremona and Mantua, Dal Pescatore feels more like a visit somebody's elegant country home, with table spacing and lighting creating a perfect harmony of intimacy without isolation. It has an almost 100-year history and continues to be operated by the third and fourth generation of the Santini family near the village of Canneto.
Until recently Dal Pescatore was the sole holder of the Michelin Three Star rating in all of Italy, which it earned in 1996. The fairytale settings of Dal Pescatore have an equally romantic story to accompany them.
"In 1925, our grandfather acquired a fisherman's hut built of rushes and a few bricks on the shore of a small lake that now lies within the Dell'Oglio park," Antonio Santini says while serving a group of journalists enjoying his restaurant's rigorously authentic Italian cuisine. "In 1926, he married Teresa and together they began their great adventure. Grandpa set out each morning, returning with fish that grandma would cook, along with some other traditional local recipes. In 1927 my father Giovanni was born and even as a small boy he pitched in to help his parents' small country tavern by selling fish".
"In 1952 Giovanni married Bruna", Antonio continues as he pours a local Lugana DOC wine as an aperitif.
Bruna took her place beside Teresa in the kitchen and as years passed white tablecloths and napkins appeared on the tables and the original name of the tavern - Vino e Pesce or Wine and Fish - was changed to Dal Pescatore in 1960.
In 1974, it was Antonio's time to tie the knot. He married Nadia and after a honeymoon in France, they came back to Bruna and Teresa's kitchen and integrated their philosophy. "Our cuisine respects tradition, the heart and life of our land, but it also blends in unobtrusive innovation," Antonio says, who joins in to make fresh pasta every morning.
A case in point is their signature dish, pumpkin tortellini, served with less butter and parmiggiano than the traditional version so that the pure straightforward flavor of each ingredient comes through.
With fish from the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas, along with fresh water pickings it is no wonder the Santini's create a fabulous fish cuisine, like their Risotto of Catfish Filet and River Eel.
In a 2012 interview, Gordon Ramsay told ANSA about his experience working with Bruna at Dal Pescatore. "I think I learned my real appreciation for Italian cuisine watching the Santini family and how meticulous they were in choosing produce, balancing flavors and the flair with which they presented dishes. My learning curve as a chef took a huge upturn when I apprenticed at Dal Pescatore,' he says.
Every dish at Dal Pescatore is prepared with the finest and freshest ingredients of the day, and hence the menu changes with the seasons as well as with the availability of the freshest produce of that moment.