It may seem obvious, but the experience of food is so much more than just the technicalities of ingredients, processes, timing and tradition. How we “feel” is determined by so many other factors. Often these are designed to deter and/or outshine the food; too often the concepts and lavishness of modern restaurant interiors do just this. Throughout my journey I have been in search of a balance; one that will inform my own vision as I gear up to open my restaurant. As a patron I value distinguishable/singular experiences that are both memorable and familiar; worth a journey (for a new experience) but able to acutely reference my own homely desires and needs.
From a distance I have seen former convents atop hills and been told abbreviated stories of their histories. Yesterday, thanks to Mr Arthur Schwartz ("The Food Maven”) and Baroness Cecilia I was invited to a private lunch at Masseria Astapiana Villa Guisso in Vico Equense. A former convent which is now the home of Guilia Giusso Del Galdo and her family.
When we arrived, Guilia walked us straight to their 16th Century kitchen. A wood burning oven churned out a delicately simple Focaccia (Olive Oil, Rosemary and Salt) to compliment our antipasti. The staff was relaxed and welcoming. What unfolded was a light lunch of local dishes. Proud of their locally cultivated ingredients, the dishes were light and beautifully executed; neither showy nor frugal. A classical piano hummed quietly in the background while we uncorked an earthy (unlabelled) local sparking white wine.
The meal began with an antipasti plate of cured meats and fresh Ricotta. The Ricotta’s smooth richness was heightened by their in house Olive Oil. Taking Cecilia’s cue, a conservative drizzle allowed the nutty locality to form its own small stream across my plate; my mini landscape correlating with the earth outside. The Focaccia’s slight char and astutely seasoned saltiness alongside the tender fattiness of the pancetta was a perfect introduction to the meal ahead.
A Ravioli followed, filled generously with Fiore de Latte (Mozzerella made from Cow’s Milk) and Ricotta. It was intoxicatingly simple; generous but not overly filling. The tomato sauce knew its role and provided the needed acidity to balance the dish, only just coating the rather thick (but not heavy) pasta shell.
The familiar secondi was a trio of local baked dishes. A Cipolla (Onion) Fritatta was sweet and caramelized. The Zucchini Parmesan was proportioned beautifully while the Pizza Rustica con Vedura was flaky and buttery, rather than heavy and spongy.
After a lovely Fig Tart dessert (complete with a Pear & Ricotta gelato we brought along with) we were offered a Digestif from an ornamental homemade selection. Although the only “taker”, I thoroughly enjoyed my Fennel liquor, more for its stunning presentation than it’s (too) syrupy and (too) sweet consistency. I’m a Whiskey, Brandy Cognac boy myself…
After a brief tour of their on-site museum and lavish living rooms we descended to the sepia tinted wine and olive oil cellar. As the other guests made their purchases, I took advantage of the mis-en-scene and posed solo for my people back home. It’s simply what we woulda done ;