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Nadia Santini, head chef at Dal Pescatore in Mantova, Italy, has been named the 2013 Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef, part of the prestigious The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.
It is a week of celebrations for the Chef, Nadia Santini’s birthday fell on the same week of the award. Upon learning the news, Chef Nadia Santini shared the joy with her family at Dal Pescatore, “I am very happy and honored to receive this important recognition. For me, it is for all Dal Pescatore, and didn’t fail to recognize the woman behind the award, “I’ve thought of the moral value of the award and Madame Clicquot, her professional path and determination.” The Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef Award celebrates the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics of the world, 936 of whom voted in this category. The award is inspired by the life and achievements of Madame Clicquot, who nearly 200 years ago, set the standard for women in business.
Marrying into a restaurant family, Nadia had never cooked professionally, “ I met my husband (Antonio) at University and wanted to apply what I had learned in sociology to nutrition”, prior to walking into Dal Pescatore’s kitchen in 1974 when she began her training with her new husband’s grandmother Teresa. 22 years later, she was the first Italian woman to be awarded three Michelin stars. In the past 10 years, Dal Pescatore has appeared eight times on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards list.
FDL caught up with the Chef to get to know her better on this occasion.
Your restaurant has a century long history, how much did this count in your results?
Our family history was a crucial starting point for us. Thanks to Antonio’s parents and grandparents, we began with a strong identity and we continue this amazing project with our kids.
When you create a dish, how to you start and when do you know you’ve got the result?
I start with my imagination, taste, ingredients, climate and culture, then wait. I close my eyes to feel what dish will appear.
You once said “I need to have no more than 30 people in the restaurant to give my full heart to each dish”, could you explain?
You can cook for 1-100-1000 people, it’s a matter of organization. In today’s restaurants you can appreciate excellence at any stage of the meal. It’s true that I like my cooking to be alive, and this can be done by cooking on the moment for the people at the table.
How important is territory, tradition and innovation in your cuisine?
Professor Costantino Cipolla from the University of Bologna once said that tradition is what deserves being passed on from one generation to the next, it is also a form of identity. You can deny your past, our history is like a great forest with ancient trees, each season they give their fruits, flowers, each year is new. It’s the same with cuisine.
The dish that most represents you?
Vegetable soup with rosemary and lime.
Your sons as well as your entire family work in the restaurant. Your son Giovanni is with you in the kitchen…
My sons Alberto and Giovanni are pillars of Dal Pescatore, they’ve learned from their grandparents the importance of family values, the spirit of sacrifice and hard work. These can be applied to any field. Giovanni’s wife Valentina also work at the restaurant and she is an active member. They bring new concepts, new ideas and we work together.
The restaurant closes for three weeks in the summer and winter, you usually take that time to travel and discover new cuisines.
We travel to meet “artists of taste” and see the evolution in food.
What sets Italian cuisine apart?
Food overcame the frontiers a long time before politics. Its language is universal, its ethics transparent, if you cook you want to bring joy and health. Italian food is like music: a few notes can create a symphony.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Travel, learn, understand. Find the harmony between reason and heart. Be brave!
What’s in store for you next?
I am only half way and life goes on. Food is the best way to get to know the world. It’s so true, Paul Bocuse, Pierre and Michel Troisgros , Marc Haeberlin, all the great chefs and all chefs in general show us that food is a source of love.
In 2012 chef Elena Arzak was named the Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef.