"The basic ingredients we use are the ones we know best. They are what we have been eating for decades. My grandfather was a hunter and a fisherman, but he did it to feed the family, not as a hobby or as a sport. It’s how it was back then".
"The Michelin star was awarded to us in 1999. I remember that, while we were sitting at the table, we received the good news with a phone call: we were stunned and thought it was a joke! In our mind, our establishment was something completely different from a Michelin-starred restaurant".
"Every time I open Panettone, the intoxicating scent that is released brings me back to my childhood and Christmas day".
LA CAPANNA DI ERACLIO: AN ITALIAN STORY
La Capanna di Eraclio is a place with a long history...
At the beginning, it was simply called La Capanna, a tavern where one could also buy tobacco products and a few grocery items. Everything here was built by my grandfather from 1922 to 1935.
My father had six siblings and, whenever the family grew, more rooms would be added to the house. If you look at the structure, you can see that the rooms were added at different times. My brother and I were born in this house too.
From a small tavern to a restaurant...
The restaurant business began in the 1960s, during the economic boom. People would come here for a “spuntin” [a snack], or to find something different to eat that wasn’t usually served at home. We had pigs for salami and a chicken coop. My father understood there was a need for a restaurant and began developing the business. This is true for so many other Italian restaurants passed down from one generation to the next.
A few years ago, when my father passed away, we saw it fit to call the restaurant "La Capanna di Eraclio", in his honor.
Maria Grazia, you work in the kitchen while your brother Pierluigi tends to the dining room. Was it a natural evolution for you to become the cook?
Living, growing up and working inside these walls has been my life. When we were young, we were given children's chores: I remember we used to clean frogs, radicchio, beans and peas. This was all very normal to us, restaurateurs’ children raised in the kitchen.
Your restaurant sits on the border between the Veneto and the Emilia Romagna regions, where the Po River meets the Adriatic Sea. What are the ingredients that you typically cook with?
The basic ingredients we use are the ones we know best. They are what we have been eating for decades. My grandfather was a hunter and a fisherman, but he did it to feed the family, not as a hobby or as a sport. It’s how it was back then.
We still work with the same ingredients and recipes: the fish we use is the catch of the day from the Goro market, and the game meat comes from the Po Delta valleys. In our kitchen, you’ll find soft-shell crab, mullet, mantis shrimp and sole. This is the fish that is caught in our coastal area.
Has anything changed since you were awarded a Michelin star?
The star was awarded to us in 1999. I remember that, while we were sitting at the table, we received the good news with a phone call: we were stunned and thought it was a joke! In our mind, our establishment was something completely different from a Michelin-starred restaurant.
MARIA GRAZIA SONCINI AND HER COOKING STYLE
What is it like to cook with mom and daughter?
In the restaurant kitchen, I was first a daughter, then a mother. Now I can see that my mother Vanda was hard on me, because I am the same way with my daughter Elettra. I stop and tell myself, “Treasure your experience!”
Is there a dish that you especially like preparing?
I like everything about cooking, but there is one thing that absolutely stimulates me: preparing lunch or dinner using leftovers. Being able to create something good, a finished dish, from unused or discarded ingredients is very satisfying.
This is a cooking style that is making a comeback now...
This is nothing new. I would call it home cooking where nothing is thrown away. It is a mental dynamic that comes from the peasant culture and from respect for food. In the old days, when there was little food around, we ate what was on the table. And if there were any leftovers, we ate them the next day. My father used to say, "Bread comes from the sweat of the brow", meaning it was hard earned and nothing should be wasted.
This is a concept that Massimo Bottura revisited too, right?
Absolutely. Bottura was behind it and included it in his Refettorio Ambrosiano culinary project [whose goal is to empower communities to fight food waste through social inclusion]. I had the opportunity to take part in too.
Is ‘simple’ cooking the same as ‘easy’ cooking?
Not at all. Simple cooking is actually quite difficult because it consists of using a very few ingredients that aren’t concealed: their uniqueness must speak for itself. In a kitchen, it is more difficult to remove what’s in excess than to add it. We must get to the soul of the ingredient and exalt its essence.
When you aren’t cooking, what do you do?
When I don’t cook, I… cook! Seriously, I love my job because, when you are born in a restaurant, it's like being born in a circus: your work and all your life dynamics revolve around that world.
I LOVE LOISON
Dario Loison and you, Maria Grazia, share a similar story: you are involved in a three-generation business. How do you preserve your traditions over time?
In a family of three generations, like ours, traditions become our life, our modus vivendi. What you have learned is naturally handed down to the next generation.
What memories do you have of Christmas and of Panettone?
In my childhood, Panettone and Christmas went hand in hand. Today, we also eat Panettone in August, but back then it was not so. Panettone was served only after the ‘official’ lunch on December 25th. Any leftover would be served for breakfast the following morning. We ate Panettone while having our bowl of coffee and milk, along with bread. I still eat it that way!
What’s your favorite Panettone?
That’s easy: Classic Panettone, full of candied citrus peel!
You once told me that, when you open a box of Loison Panettone, you breathe in "the scent of goodness” and you’re reminded of your mother.
Every year, at our restaurant, we buy a 10-kg Magnum-sized Panettone. Every time I open it, the intoxicating scent that is released brings me back to my childhood and Christmas day. The family came together, mother had our clothes laid out and new shoes by the bed. Ready for the Mass service. It was the ritual of the family gathered around the dining table, having tortellini and Panettone!