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One of the most renowned female ambassadors for Italian cuisine in the world was actually born in France: Annie Feolde was the first woman in Italy to be awarded three Michelin stars. She was born near Nice and first came to Tuscany to study but was never to leave again. Today she owns one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, the Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, which she runs with husband Giorgio. Located in an 18th century palazzo in the heart of the city, the three Michelin starred restaurant can boast one of the five best stocked cellars on the planet.
“I was born in the country – Annie Feolde tells the readers of Fine Dining Lovers – my parents were hoteliers and used to work day and night: I never would have imagined taking on such a touch job that leaves hardly any time for family life”.
What made you change your mind?
I started to travel to perfect my languages: London, Paris and then Italy. In Florence I met Giorgio Pinchiorri and it was love at first sight: at the time, he was Sommelier for the Enoteca Nazionale in via Ghibellina, which is where our restaurant is located now. He was already a great wine collector and in 1969 when I met him, he owned 27000 bottles. We brought wines from France to Italy that Italians had only heard of or dreamed of before then: it was Giorgio himself who had the idea of selling wine by the glass in a restaurant. Today, it is a common practice but it was an absolute novelty at the time.
At the outset you used to prepare some nibbles to eat with wine during tasting sessions: when did you actually get involved in proper coking?
It was an old friend of ours, a food critic called Edoardo Raspelli who invited me to cook on television in the ‘70s. I was rather embarrassed so he said “Take inspiration from a Tuscan dish” and that’s exactly what I did. I seem to remember that I did a chicken liver soufflé with brioches: that was just the beginning and my basic values have never changed since then, Tuscan cuisine with a modern twist. I am thinking for instance of my spelt soup with skewered red prawn wrapped in Parma ham with a bay leaf, or pici made with breadcrumbs. My cooking is the contemporary evolution of traditional Tuscan recipes.
And that’s when international success arrived.
My style and confidence have grown down through the years. In Autumn ’81, while we were out walking, Giorgio stopped at a newsagent’s and bought the Michelin guide: he opened it and started to dance on the pavement. It was the first time that “la Rouge” par excellence had realized we existed: the second star arrived just one year later in 1982, followed by the third after ten years. This made me immensely proud, not only because I was the first Italian woman to have received such an important acknowledgement but also because I was the fourth in the world. No one had ever achieved so much since the first “mères” of Lyon had been awarded in the ‘50s. Besides, our society has always been chauvinist in its treatment of women but now things are slowly changing: I have never had children but I wish to say that I nurture immense admiration for all those women who manage to be chefs despite having a family.
What is the future of fine dining restaurants?
There will always be a demand for them, at least so long as there are human beings able to appreciate beauty and good food. They will die out when research and creativity disappear. It is right to keep on top of what happens in the kitchens of other countries, but I believe that Italy has no need at all to look around for ideas from other nations. We have everything: technique and extraordinary products such as extra virgin olive oil, for instance. We could excel in everything, if only we learnt to operate as a team.