I had the pleasure to work in Europe for the past few weeks. It is not easy because there are many distractions, one being food. Since I am slowly becoming a food communication specialist I had managed to interview the chef of one of the best restaurants in Lucca – Locanda di Sesto, nearby Lucca. The restaurant offers a typical traditional italian cuisine based on soups, crostini, cure hams, meats, local wine and beer.
For example this picture above is a typical appetizer in Tuscany called Fettunta (I hope I spelled it right) or Fetta Unta, which translates in oily (greasy) slice of bread- The recipe is very easy, a simple and cheap meal from back in the days- Toast Tuscan bread and sprinkle with olive oil and rosemary. It was accompanied by Prosecco, a sparkly dry white wine, similar to Brut.
The menu is very generous ranging from meat or vegetarian dishes. The restaurant is famous for the giant steaks, that are selected individually from the Chef Aurelio Barattini. There is no doubt that the quality of what he offers is high. He produces his own extra virgin olive oil as well as red wine, which was the smoothest wine I ever had. (and I am super picky). He also grows a variety of vegetables that he uses for his own dishes. Products are seasonal.
He makes his own pasta too. So I guess the question is what does not he make?
I got to the restaurant around 8PM on a Monday night. I thought the restaurant was closed (usually Monday and Tuesday restaurants are closed in Italy), but it was quite busy with locals and travelers. Aurelio explained to me that he closes on Saturday and during festivities because he would rather serve few clients but well than be packed like in meat slaughter. In fact, his mother and the rest of his team was cordial, ready to answer all my questions. All the tables around me ordered the famous meat and I must admit it looked delicious. I am personally not a huge meat fan, so I opted for a local soup made with artichokes and asparagus.
The restaurant is family-owned so when you walked in the kitchen you meet Aurelio’s father and mother. His dad is originally from Emilia Romagna. Everybody has a job to keep the business going.
This soup is called Garmugia (you can find a recipe here, not of Aurelio, but it can be a starting point) and consists of artichockes, asparagus, broth and a type of meat I can’t recall. It was awesome.
As a second dish I had pancetta di vitella ripiena with roasted vegetable as a side dish. Vitella is veal, which is packed with some other goodies including eggs and bacon. It was very tender and flavory, but also very light.
There is much more I can write. I talked to Aurelio for four hours sipping on wine (Just me) and observing him cooking and interacting with clients. What I was interested was the integration of social media into food culture in Italy. I had found Aurelio on LinkedIn just for chance. I was intrigued by his tweets about food markets and recipes, so we connected. It is not that often that you find chefs in my hometown utilizing social media so well and with such skills. His pictures of food make you want to jump in a plane and go to the restaurant. He then told me that he was initially a graphic designer, which explains his interest. He admits that for him social media can be used to reinforce food culture, to teach young children about food. It is also a very effective marketing tool. He has connected with people globally and offers workshops in the United States. His blog provides recipes of traditional Italian dishes, including the Mimosa Cake, which I am going to attempt to make when I get back to the States.
But the real question is: was the food good and would I return?
Yes, the food was awesome and I would highly recommend the place. First, having lived in Lucca, I must admit that today you can’t eat well inside the wall. The center of Lucca has been commercialized at a point that each restaurant is a tourist trap (or at least the majority). La Locanda di Sesto is about 15 minutes outside the wall and maybe that is what helps the cuisine to stay true to its roots. It is a mix of your mom’s cuisine with the sophistication of a professional chef. But get ready to eat a lot. Portions are generous and you just can’t go home without having tasted a first and second dish. For Americans who love to taste real Italian food this is a must. In fact on TripAdvisor the reviews are great, proving that after all someone still knows how to cook like a pro.