We’ve partnered with Vogue Italia to explore the Italian Touch – the unique Italian attitude towards life, craft and food that makes our country and the people who live in it so special. Today we celebrate the mothers of Italy – the strong and adored ladies who rule the home and create masterpieces in the kitchen.
The fear of being labeled ‘mama’s boys’ lingers over the Italians. Your mother is always your mother, they say, and the love for the head of the family is something that is prominent in every home and grows between the kitchen and the dining table. It’s the mother that cooks, hands down recipes and techniques and has always ruled over the household, the fields, her children and her husband. A mother transforms, organises, offers and forbids, and this is why she affects every habit, memory and personal taste of a whole nation, just like her mother, and her mother’s mother, did before.
These days when we switch on the TV it seems as if professional cooking is dominated by men, that all great chefs wear a white jacket and trousers, and that women are relegated to a ‘female quota’ that makes headlines – and to the mere household dimension. If this were France, home to some of the greatest chefs, we couldn’t help but mention Eugénie Brazier, the great mother of cuisine, universally known as La Mère Brazier. In 1933 the three Michelin stars were assigned for the first time in history, and Brazier, a woman, was the one who earned them.
In Italy the name to drop is that of Nadia Santini who, wearing skirts only, was named best woman chef in the world while heading over a special family at the Dal Pescatore Restaurant in Canneto sull’Oglio (Mantua). With her husband attending to clients and her son by her side in the kitchen, Nadia’s menu in this temple of Italian cuisine – which is also the holder of three Michelin stars - at first glance does not seem ground-breaking; it is based on tradition and it simply borders on perfection.
The Santini family has owned the restaurant a few steps away from the river Oglio since 1925, and during over 90 years three generations of wives have run that kitchen, married a husband and a profession, and handed down techniques and recipes. Teresa, Bruna and now Nadia have all rolled out the dough and stirred the polenta, fried eels and boiled broth for the anolini, while climbing rankings in culinary guides.
Some of these dishes have been on the menu every day for years, such as the legendary pumpkin tortelli. How can we define them? Classic dishes. Perfection. The result of decades of uninterrupted practice. “Cooking is not like archaeology, it proceeds alongside man and with man it blends, it transforms and changes to adjust to the needs of present times”, the Santinis wrote. We don’t need fireworks, coups de théâtre or fuming nitrogen to amaze: mothers have always used other tools, the best ones. Maybe it’s because they serve gnocchi on Thursdays and also Sunday roast, nobody can deny they represent the real Italian touch.
This article originally appeared on Vogue Italia.