The first female chef in Italy to earn three Michelin stars has been named the best female chef in the world for 2013.
Nadia Santini of Dal Pescatore in Mantova, Italy, joins Elena Arzak of Spain and Anne-Sophie Pic of France in a small exclusive club of female chef powerhouses crowned with the grandiose title of being the World’s Best Female Chef, an award sponsored by Champagne house Veuve Clicquot.
It’s a remarkable achievement for a woman who never had any professional training prior to marrying into a restaurant family, and whose sole kitchen experience for the past 39 years has been at Dal Pescatore, just south of Verona.
Instead, her primary culinary education came from the matriarch of the Santini family, Grandmother Teresa, and a natural curiosity that led her and her new husband to research some of the best restaurants in France before taking over the family restaurant and implementing ambitious changes to the already 50-year-old establishment.
Today the restaurant continues to be a family affair: husband Antonio works the front of the house with their youngest son Alberto, while mother-in-law Bruna, 84, is in the kitchen every day with grandson Giovanni.
Located in the picturesque nature reserve of Oglio Sud Park in a small village of 36 people, the restaurant offers al fresco dining on the wraparound verandah overlooking the property’s lush Italian gardens.
Inside the country house restaurant, leather armchairs and sofas and a fully stacked library invite guests to make themselves at home before they tuck into Michelin-starred dishes that pay homage to traditional family recipes and regional cooking.
Foods are given the spotlight -- not the transformative powers of culinary alchemy as seen in molecular gastronomy -- and ingredients given the chance to speak for themselves.
Turbot, for instance, is paired minimally with parsley, anchovies, and capers in an olive oil sauce -- there are no gimmicks or tricks.
Currently, one of the culinary philosophies presiding over the Dal Pescatore kitchen is the desire to strike a healthier balance. Tortelli di zucca, for instance, or pumpkin ravioli, is lightened up with less butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano in an effort to highlight the core of the dish.
The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award is described as a celebration of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest critics.
Meanwhile, the announcement of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants takes place April 29 in London.