A MICHELIN STAR RESTAURANT MADE OF FAMILY VALUES AND TRADITIONS. THE FACES BEHIND GUIDO RISTORANTE: UGO & PIERO ALCIATI.
As I walked into the door, I was overwhelmed by the emotions that only a familiar place can give you. My memories dictate my judgment because of the years I spent as a University girl who has seen herself grow up in those areas. But the story of Guido Ristorante is different from all the others: it is the story of a family, traditions, innovations, and excellence.
Serralunga d’Alba, inside Fontanafredda, a complex of Oscar Farinetti ( Eataly’s chain owner) is the current stage of the Alciati brothers. However, I would like to take a step back that brings us to the beginning of the history of the Alciati family.
Guido was a food representative, and he met Lidia in a bar in Costigliole d’Asti, they hang out for a year and got married. From their love, the three children born: Piero ( 1962), Ugo (1967), and Andrea (1971). Lidia and her grandmother loved cooking, the two, together, were excellent. Guido pushes them to feeds this passion and decides to open the first restaurant in Costigliole d’Asti. It was a huge space – in a horrible building -says Ugo laughing. It was a place for parties, weddings, which could hold up to 180 people. But Guido wanted more. He wanted to focus on the quality and the origin of products.
The turning point came in the early ’60s when Guido told Lidia, “either we close everything and go and do something else or we overturn the restaurant.” The 180 place settings become 45, tablecloths made of flanders and linen, silver candlesticks, and so on. It was 1966 that saw the restaurant’s upheaval, not only from the inside but also from the outside. They became the K0 pioneers, they started making reservations, and telling the menu by voice, with an explanation of the raw materials taken daily. “At first, no one came in: it was two years of suffering and sacrifice. Then the rumor began to spread not only in Italy but also abroad: Germans, French, Americans, Swiss and so on start to come. People began to realize it was a completely different cusine for the time, revolutionary.
Meanwhile, Piero, the eldest son, grows up and follows his father into the service. Andrea, his third-born son, finished high school and also followed in his father’s footsteps. Ugo, on the other hand, is a black family sheep – as he calls himself – and it takes him a while to get his head in order, but he immediately dabbles in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother.
“When I was four years old, I decided to work in the kitchen. I officially entered the kitchen when I was 15 years old, when I finished compulsory school I decided I didn’t want to go to cooking school, on the contrary, I was giving lessons to the older ones. I started cooking cakes when I was nine years old, with meringues. I thought to start with the simplest thing, that has only two ingredients: sugar and egg white. Instead, before reaching my recipe, I had to work for two years. In the last few years in Costigliole, I would chase my grandmother asking her for recipes, and she would tell me – a little bit of flour here, a little bit of meat there – then I would start to collect the ingredients and collect the doses weighing them. So, I began to collage the recipes. Our family never been able to copy anything from anyone because it is a bit reductive since we always liked to do it in our own way. It’s a personalized classicism. The restaurant has always been our home, and that’s why we always wanted to make people feel at home. We don’t care about the form of service, but about education and hospitality. It’s a different way of interpreting the service, because it may be awe-inspiring to some.”
By Lodovica Bo
The growth of the restaurant happens quickly, and Guido starts to look for a new location for the restaurant, to make a qualitative leap because “customers come from afar and deserve a more beautiful place,” he said. The search lasted years until they found not one, but two locations: Pollenzo and San Maurizio (now managed by his brother Andrea). Thanks to Carlo Petrini (founder of the slow food movement), Pollenzo was a parenthesis that saw Ugo (in the kitchen) and Piero (in the dining room) in charge of the restaurant, after the great Guido passed away. The Alciati, however, does not stop there: it is, in fact, thanks to a second meeting, with Oscar Farinetti, that Guido restaurant moves to Fontanafredda, inside the Villa della Bela Rosin, where the restaurant is now. The paradox is that in Costigliole they close on 22 December 2002 and in Pollenzo precisely ten years later, on 22 December 2012. “I believe that the restaurant in Pollenzo was one of the most beautiful in the world. I have never had such a superb cuisine. The only flaw was that it was a somewhat majestic restaurant for us, the room was huge to manage, in a single open space. Today, paradoxically, we are five restaurants with five kitchens, and it is more tiring, but it has a different charm.”- says smiling.
You are immersed in the Langhe, a territory of high tourist value today. How do you stand out from your competitors?
“Today all the restaurants, even the traditional ones in the Langhe, make fish. The only fish we have are the Piedmontese ones: cod, eel, and trout. I am proud to say that there is not a single shrimp on my menu.”
What is Guido’s soul and philosophy?
“Definitely a mix of memory, history, and innovation. We work with historical dishes of our memory and tradition. For example, the veal with tuna sauce at my grandmother’s time was boiled because it was used for the broth, and then what was leftover was a piece of meat a bit stringy -grayish because it had given all the color to make the sauce. Finally, they used to chop it and then cover with sauce because it was ugly to see. From there comes one of the most famous dishes of the Piedmontese tradition. It was, therefore, a dish that was born from leftovers, like agnolotti. Over the years, we have modernized and refined it. Today we have eliminated the slicer. It is cut by hand with a knife, making the taste of the meat purer and not oxidized. It was something that no one had done: this is our way of innovating but in some way not renewing traditional Piedmontese dishes.”
The dish of the soul that you wanted to propose again until today?
“The agnolotti are what Guido’s restaurant has never missed in these 60 years of history and what were curiously the most symbiotic between my mother and me. Because I made pasta and she made the filling, there was this symbiosis to have the dish finished.”
“Certainly the meringues, which today are the only pastry we do. More recent was the fiordilatte icecream creamed at the time, which, again, is done in a different way than usual.”
The coexistence between brothers?
“Do you remember Cain and Abel? That’s right.” – He says laughing. “We’ve been working together for 35 years. We are the two halves of an apple that separate oxidize. It’s a game we’re playing: he’s poking me and then and I’ll find a solution.”
Something you would change about GUIDO today?
“I could change everything and not change anything at all. I like what we do, and I like how we do it, sometimes I want to do it better but not always I can. That’s the only regret.”
What do you think about the world of gastronomy today?
“The world of gastronomy, in general, has suffered a monstrous push from Ferran Adrià onwards, which has led to a revolution with a siphon – I hope he took shares in the siphon company – he says laughing. From then on, many have begun to copy it, some emerging, others less. Today, instead, what my father did is coming back into vogue, without the help of today’s communication, however. There is a tendency to exasperation, and sometimes you eat in a restaurant, but afterwards you want a pizza. Cooking is in fashion, and I hope that we will never become fashionable because fashion passes. I want the customer to feel comfortable and want to come back.”
Ambitions of the second Michelin star?
“Saying no would be a lie, but I can survive. The worst thing would be for my clients to stop complimenting me. I’m not vain, but the compliments are my gasoline, what keeps me going. Once a lady called me in the dining room and told me that that dish was better than what her mother used to make. It was the best compliment ever. Here there are no hierarchies, we are a big family and we live here, it is our home, we are in an organized confusion, the only thing that matters is the happiness of the customers.”
The relationship with waste in the kitchen?
“One day I was speaking with Massimo Bottura, and I told him – I do the opposite of what you do – he looks at me badly, and I explain myself better – it’s that I don’t try to recover something I’ve wasted, I try not to waste it. I organize myself better before avoiding what is not necessary, without risking to waste it. We work a lot of products with marinade, drying, and pickling. We are a waste of almost 0. Today we are about 50 employees, so we eat what we don’t use in the kitchen.”
Moments of crisis that have given a turn to the restaurant?
“Two events that gave a vital turn around were when my father first and then my mother passed away. We were a family, husband and wife, and three children who ran a restaurant. It was just an employee and us, so we were counting on us.
Since the death of our parents, we’ve finally managed to change locations, we’ve grown a lot, and I’m sorry that they haven’t been able to see it.”