In the Medieval town of Suvereto in Tuscany, chef Fabrizio Caponi at his Osteria I'Ciocio has been at the helm of a quiet revolution for twenty years. This year, his work was recognised with a Michelin green star for the second year.
Chef Caponi has no idea how Michelin assessed his restaurant for the green star, but he does know that creating a movement of organic producers, sustainable farmers and restaurateurs is work that can make a real impact and is more important now than ever. “There is no other future,” he says.
In the most beautiful location, in one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, Suvereto, Osteria I'Ciocio is one of thirty Italian restaurants to hold the Michelin green star. His restaurant does not have a Michelin star.
“For me it’s more important to have a green star,” says Caponi. “Because it’s more important work. A Michelin star can become a problem, and for this area, you don’t need a Michelin star in order to work well.”
Today, Suvereto is supported mostly by tourism, but its recent history was linked to the area’s industry, the steel plant in the nearby town of Piombino, and the iron mines in the area. The industrial phase of this historical town, however, obscured the culinary tradition, and when Caponi arrived here twenty years ago, he struggled to find a cuisine that represented the area.
“When I first arrived in Suvereto my food was more fusion, but after spending time in the village, I got to know the agricultural tradition, the small producers. I was able to understand the terroir, so I began to return to the more traditional cuisine - as a concept, but with more modern technique."
“There is not a great culinary tradition here,” he explains. “The difference between here and, say, the central part of Tuscany, is there is not a great cuisine. Twenty years ago, when I first arrived, I began looking for traditional dishes and I didn’t find a great history of cooking.”
And yet the produce in this part of Tuscany is unsurpassed and can compete with any in Italy. It is an area that has everything – rich soil, sun, heat, the sea, as well as a cultural influence from the migrants who arrived from Sardinia to herd sheep, and the cowherds who drove their cattle to the lowlands from Lucca for the harsher winter months.
Caponi’s search for a culinary tradition brought him in contact with farmers in the area that were growing organically. The Slow Food movement was changing the consciousness among producers and the green shoots of a local movement were beginning to emerge. Caponi began to cultivate.
“I began to know the organic producers in the area and I began to understand the importance of all the issues facing the food system,” he recalls. “Then we began to connect all these producers together and the Sterpaia Project was born."
The Sterpaia Project is Caponi’s platform that links a network of organic producers, a work that has grown over the years, and now includes organic grain cultivation and a farm-to-table system that serves Caponi’s customers in Osteria l’Ciocio.
“We started to connect the organic producers and the customers, that’s our role as chefs, to bring a message on the plate to people. We grow traditional grains, as they were supposed to be consumed, and now to complete the project we have acquired our own stone mill to mill the flour. So we can have full control over the process, form sowing and reaping, to milling and cooking.”
The award for sustainability is a new departure for the Michelin Guide and as with everything about the guide, its methods of assessment are a mystery. Caponi doesn’t know how they assessed his restaurant’s practices.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m well known in the area for the work that I do and I’ve been doing it since 2007, I’ve never done any marketing until this year. I’m just working to create a network of farmers, producers and restaurateurs. You know, entrepreneurs don’t have time to think about the future, they think about tomorrow and about survival, so together we support each other and we are stronger. For me, there is no other future.”