The three musketeers of Lucca’s food scene tell the story of today’s Giglio.
“Without a friend, there’s no denying
The ’70s were years of rupture, of change, of birth. Just this year, the third album of Led Zeppelin is released, entitled III. Friends is one of the tracks on the album: Without a friend, there’s no denying you’re incomplete- they sing.
Also, in that decade, a little later, in 1979, was born a place that will become a cornerstone of the Lucca tradition, which, over time, is transformed by being definitively revolutionized in 2013 by Lorenzo Stefanini, Stefano Terigi, and Benedetto Rullo. Here comes the echo of number three and friendship: three roads that meet and bind thanks to friendship. The young age of the three is balanced by a healthy desire to experiment, and “nothing happens if you are wrong”: feet on the ground, curiosity, and a lot of fun characterize the three cooks. In a world where cooks are rock stars and cooking is a hit of the moment, the Giglio boys want to get off that pedestal, bringing their cuisine to the level of pure gastronomic enjoyment, if possible, shared with the loved ones. This return to conceptual simplicity is not found in the dishes, where the simplicity of ingredients is combined with a comfortable perfection of taste. No wonder that in 2018 they won their first Michelin star. It is a balanced triad, without ego, defined by a wisdom made of simple values such as that of the family and with a lot, a lot, desire to have fun, and make fun of themselves.
An exchange of ideas and answers, interspersed with a few jokes and laughter, here is the summary of this interview.
How do you meet?
LS: Stefano and I have known each other for a long time, we went to school together: it’s a friendship that starts much earlier than work. Benedetto, instead, I met him at the Alma cooking school, while Stefano worked with him in Germany. From this came the idea of working together to open today’s Giglio.
The restaurant has been there for more than 35 years: Loredano opened it with my grandfather, then Stefano and I arrived a few years ago, and from there began the transformation that has evolved into what it is now, with the arrival of Benedetto. We have renewed the restaurant, our menu, keeping the part of traditions that represent us, transforming it in a way in which we feel it more ours. This is today’s Giglio: there are three of us. This factor is essential for us because it allows us to have more time for ourselves and a slightly more regular life without having to live in the restaurant, otherwise, if you spend too much time in the kitchen you become a bit grey inside.
Any previous experience that defines you as a cook today?
ST: Surely, the team spirit. It’s a common feature: the spirit you have as a kid when you go out with your “little gang”. We applied it to our profession in a very natural way, not by default. Our provincial contest gives a good idea: Lorenzo and I are from Lucca, while Benedetto is from Rome.
How would you define the soul of your kitchen?
LS: We always try to make tasty dishes; it’s a great starting point. We look for taste: for us, a dish must be delicious, that’s it. Then it can be more or less cool, with different ingredients, without necessarily having to surprise or use too many techniques.
ST : We say that we do not have self-definition at the origin, so we must pursue it forcibly.
Surely there is a basis of tradition. We all are three “bastards,” as Anna Morelli defines us, in a friendly way, of course, because we all have mixed origins, but with a strong Italian root, Tuscany one. On this basis, we have a lot of ease to integrate a multicultural part.
The fact that you are three is particular: what is the common thread that binds you?
LS: The relationship of friendship and the fact that we all feel the same: then when the service begins, there is only that. In recent years we have all been fundamental to the growth of the team in the kitchen. Now that we have a structured organization, we have the opportunity to divide us more. The time when it’s essential to be together is in the morning when we get together to think about new dishes or what we need to do.
What sets us apart is that we don’t have a personal ego; no one wants to prevail over the other. You can argue and then go and have a beer a little later: that’s crucial.
Past and present of the Giglio: what has changed?
LS: Giglio is a family restaurant where you can come to eat 2-3 times a week and not just for the particular event: something quite abnormal for a starred restaurant. It is an everyday restaurant: an important aspect that reflects both the Giglio of the past and the present one. Then we tried, compared to the past, to always improve, to increase the details, trying to grow with the restaurant. We are always in transition. If we had decided to start from scratch today what we do would be different, also because, representing already at the time a local institution, it worked, and this played a fundamental role in its definition, which somewhat clashed with our initial ideas. There is always a game that leads to continuous progress and being continually in the process of change. It’s been a fast seven years, and we continue to evolve without being able to say that we’ve arrived at a final definition.
Is there anything about the beauty that surrounds you, from a cultural and landscape point of view, that stimulates or is reflected in your kitchen?
ST: I think that beauty is part of our culture from the beginning. We are lucky to walk every morning , observing what’s in the countryside and having a gastronomic culture that is both culture and beauty. Consequently, we, in our kitchen, tend to breathe this, or at least we hope.
LS: Another thing that stimulates us a lot is to travel and learn about new realities, cultures, people, to be able to propose them within our kitchen. We like tradition, and we are bound by it, but we do not feel bound to it. We also want to space without limits.
From a personal point of view, is there anything that characterizes you outside the kitchen?
ST: Wine. We are the chefs who drink – he says laughing. Joking aside, we are passionate about natural wines, which is why we go to trade fairs and to discover new producers.
LS: Benedetto and I have families, so we spend the other part of our lives with them.
ST: I am the least cook of all three. I started doing this work seven years ago, before I was studying and working in the world of contemporary art, also understood as performative: from cinema to music. It was an activity and a passion that continues to live in me.
If your cuisine were an artistic or musical genre, how would you define it?
ST: If I wanted to compare it to music, and it’s more a hope than a reality, I’d like to define it as the Radiohead, who have always managed to evolve while maintaining their identity, maturing, but without remaining bound to an initial image. Then also to Verdena…
Chefs who have managed to make art in the kitchen are others: those who have changed, created elements of rupture, from which the veins are born. Ferran Adrià and Renè Redzepi are the last two great examples.
What is your relationship with the producers you work with? Who are they?
LS: The relationship is close, and just a few kilometers away.
We take the cheeses from a cheese ripeners in Arezzo called Andrea Magi; with the guys from Maestà della formica who have now started a journey with Bonci; and then with the boys from the Circle, who grow herbs, near Rome.
What do you think about the world of gastronomy today?
LS: In Italy, there is a good movement, you can eat well nowadays, we are going in the right direction, but you all need to take two steps back because whoever is a cook is not saving anyone’s lives. The same goes for customers, they should relax and enjoy a dinner or lunch without too much stress or be judged for a mistake or await: customers should enjoy more, and we resize ourselves.
ST: In my opinion, what is determining the new course of cooking in the world is the fact that so many people who are doing this job no longer do it just to live, but by choice. And I am part of this category. This means that many people can come from a different education from the kitchen, and in my opinion, this phenomenon is fuelling the approach that Nordic restaurants, for example, can have in research. It is, therefore, a growing phenomenon, ready to explode.
Concerning climate change, do you think that a small restaurant can raise people’s awareness?
LS: I think that in small, we must start from home before the restaurant, through small gestures in everyday life, which are the first steps to achieve a global change.
Hilarious moments you spent together?
We experience the funny moments every night. Since last year in November we took the star and celebrate the victories a lot, every day. Last but not least, we also gained 10 kg each, so we started running – they say laughing.
Your most representative dish?
ST: Dishes change often depending on the season, it’s hard to say. Surely a representative dish is Risotto: a dish that takes inspiration from the behavior of the tomato in the sauce. The Lucchese ragù is very spicy, and the acidity of the tomato keeps the spice at bay. So we decided to push this aspect and make a risotto cooked with green tomato water and fill it with a lot of nutmegs.
A smell or a dish that reminds you of a past emotional memory?
LS: Definitely, tortellini.
ST: For me, when I put South American ingredients in my mouth: Mango, Papaya…because half of my family is Venezuelan. It reminds me of something that has passed, that I would like to live again.
LS: Soon, we will open another place that will be entirely ours. Stefano has followed the project a lot: it will be a gastronomy called Gigliola, where there will be quick lunches, take-away, and dinner. We still need to see what form it will take, but the idea is that of a slightly quieter place, where we can give space to our creativity, without constraints, and that it is accessible. And that’s it.
ST: Also, because we have understood that we are good at having parties more than anything else.
Info contacts: https://www.ristorantegiglio.com