Here we are in Piedmont, a beautiful region in the North-West part of Italy. To be precise, in the Fontanafredda’s Estate in Serralunga d’Alba, in the province of Cuneo, working on a new photographic project at Guido Restaurant.
Guido Restaurant is a Michelin starred restaurant, renowned for its traditional cuisine. It’s deeply linked to the region and the local produce and where brothers Ugo and Piero Alciati greet their customers in a high class place. The restaurant is housed in a well restored and beautifully furnished Villa, whose interiors have kept the original features of the building.
The estate was, in fact, founded by the King Vittorio Emanuele II in 1858 as a gift to his second wife, the Countess of Mirafiore and Fontanfredda, Rosa Vercellana.
The name of the restaurant is a tribute to their father Guido Alciati who, with his wife Lidia, have contributed to the history of high quality Italian restaurants. Now, their two sons, Piero and Ugo, have taken their parents’ place. A great maitre and wine expert the first, a precise Chef the second, who is also one of the eight ambassadors of the Italian Cuisine at Expo 2015 in Milan.
Arriving by car, through the rolling Langhe of Piedmont, the view opens on the estate giving the impression of being led to a magical place. A fiefdom of about 85 hectares of wonderful vineyards whose variety of high quality wines is known worldwilde.
My eyes were full with wonder when I first went up the ancient staircase leading to the restaurant on the first floor, and walked under frescoed arches, stepping on floors made of original cotto tiles.
Here, there are not only ancient and well preserved features in a building dated from 1800s, but also design and innovation. The interior design chosen for the restaurant and its huge dining rooms with big round tables, creates a sharp and elegant contrast between modernity and original elements.
Surrounded by the magical athmosphere of this place, we started our work. Little by little, we discovered the philosophy behind the success of the restaurant developed during the years and started with the avantgarde ideas of its founders, Guido e Lidia.
The initial idea was very simple but a bit unsual for that time: they wanted to offer traditional and seasonal dishes, giving special attention to the ingredients that had to be fresh and local. A sort of anticipation of a trend that would increase hugely during the years, and in Italy is known as prodotti a kilometro zero.
It is thanks to these choices and other ideas that the restaurant has become well known for its excellent high quality ingredients. And when I’m talking about local produce, I really mean local because vegetables and eggs come directly from the estate’s vegetable garden and henhouse.
From the elegant window of the restuarant, it’s possible to see an extremely well kept vegetable garden and some white hens that roam freely.
We begun our work by starting to explore and understand this beautiful place and the land that offers so much richness and adundancy. Later, we also learnt about the stories and the traditions linked to the cuisine, and took photos of some perfect dishes that were presented to us like some eatable miniature works of art. Among these, there were some of Guido Restaurant’s typical speciality, such as Agnolotti, a dish that recalls some of the memories of the Alciati family. Lidia, the mother, is still remembered for this special dish that has now been passed down to her sons. The Agnolotti al “plin”, (which means the pinch for sealing the pastry around the filling). The Agnolotti are a special type of pasta in the Piedmont region and are similiar to little Ravioli.
Working in a beautiful place like this is not something that happens very often, and since I’ve started to work here, little by little, I’ve started to appreciate my days much more.
I discovered in Chiara and Francesco two new friends. She comes from Bologna and he is from Bari.
I had briefly met them at the Photography school in Milan where we had studied. After a couple of years, I met them by chance in Paris and then I didn’t hear from them again, until the day we started working together on this project.
While working with them, I’ve rediscovered a lightness and a pleasure of doing things that I usually forget. Usually, I let my anxiety take over because I want to do everything well and in a very short time, especially when the expectations are high.
I appreciate very much those who know how to be serene and to keep a positive mind, even under stress, without ever forgetting that not everyone has the privilege we have of being paid for doing something that we love doing.
For the photos of the dishes, we studied a styling that would recall the family’s traditions and their recipes, and the importance of the fresh local products. We went to nose around in the vegetable garden, in the busy kitchen with many talented young people, but also, we went to look around other parts of the Villa, looking for hidden corners where to place our sets. And we found some of the most wonderful things: from the old books, to the old set of dishes which we used for recreating an ancient allure of this amazing place.
I was also so lucky to be able to taste almost eveything on the menu and everything was so remarkably good. But among the main courses, I particularly loved the “Tagliatelle ai trenta rossi”, an egg pasta dish made with 30 yolks, sautee in the butter, with trufle and dried porcini mushrooms…..something heavenly!
I loved every single moment of those days, and I’m looking forward to be returning in Autumn for another part of the work which will be linked to the season I love best. I’m already dreaming about walking on the crunchy leaves in the “Bosco dei Pensieri”. It’s a meditation and conteplation route in the ancient forest on the hill, in front of the estate. I don’t think I have ever seen a sequoia so old and huge like the one that stands at the foot of the hill.
I won’t even attempt to talk about the magnificient wines that can be tasted at the Restaurant. To be honest, I have started to really appreciated red wine thanks to my days spent there. How did I managed to stay so ignorant about wine and deprive myself of such a pleasure?… Just a sip of a very fine wine such as Barolo, for example, is enough to make you better appreciate other flavours in a meal. Of course, I’m not saying anything new but everyone has their own time to understand certian things!
When I went back to my everyday life, I had to take out my tall wine glasses because I couldn’t really drink, not even some water, in any other ordinary glass anymore. It’s so easy to get used to beautiful things, to the pleasures of life and to the abundance!
Luckily, I will return to that beautiful place soon and so I could dream a bit longer…
This is the link of Guido Restaurant where it’s possible to see the amazing menu.
My favourite were:
L’uovo in camicia con asparagi (poached egg with asparagus), Fonduta di parmigiano e tatufo nero (Parmesan foundute with black trufle), Tagliatelle ai 30 rossi, (tagliatelle pasta sautè in butter, trufle and dried porcini mashrooms). Agnolotti di Lidia al sugo d’arrosto. Among the desserts I liked Sformato caldo di nocciole and Crema al latte e amarene….a must.