Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Meeting Two Renaissance Artists: Dario Cecchini & Gabriele Bonci

Land of Rebirth

Carl Shavitz

Flash back to May 2012 when I first heard of Gabriele Bonci, known as the "Michelangelo of Pizza" in Rome, while taking an artisan bread workshop at the Fattoria Dela Usignoli, in the outskirts of Florence.  Tom Edwards, bread baker and pizza chef of Mozza Pi in Kentucky had just taken a 2 day course with Bonci at the Pizzarium School, shows up during the first day of the workshop, raving about his pizza making experience. As many times as I've been to Italy, I have eaten pizza only once at Baffetto Pizzeria  and that was in Rome in 2011.  This time, I was  intrigued  by Gabriele Bonci  known for using organic, natural ingredients, including the stone-milled flour by Mulino Marino.  Turns out our bread instructor would have us using flour  (Tipo 0) from the same mill to make focaccias. What makes Mulino Marino special? It's a small family-run business that uses stone mill rather than machine to grind the wheat.  This means less heat, which means the nutrients remain intact, unlike machine milled flours where additives are added.  Think industrial. The flour made in Mulino Marino remain pure. Pureness means freshness (reason for shorter shelf life) and better flavor (reason for better taste!).

 A last minute cancellation (which meant a small discount) at the Artisan Bread School to further hone my bread skills was a great excuse to travel to Tuscany, and to simply spend time with our friend and baking instructor, Carl Shavitz, whom I originally took the class from at The Hains House in Olympia, WA. Carl was on the mend from a car accident and was glad to see him doing so well.

After spending three days in class, it was rather difficult to not skip the rest of the workshop when Florence was 20 minutes away by train.   I mainly focused on muscle memory in the kneading and folding process of artisan bread (no mixer) and  reviewing the steps to making sourdough. Once it was time to make the bagels and grisinni, it was time to join my husband and explore the countryside of Tuscany.


Renting a scooter bike is a highlight for us while traveling in and about Florence. Especially when it's so easy to rack up traffic fines for driving a car in undesginated areas all around the city!  Yes, we did.  2011 was our first year to rent  a scooter bike trekking 300-some miles to Volterra one day and 350-some miles to Cortona the next! Never again. We decided to not go crazy last year.  Our goal was to take a leisure ride along the curvy Chianti road (SS 222), passing along farmhouses, poppy fields, and vineyards. That year, we had every intention of stopping by Panzano, the sleepy town past Greve, Chianti which has become the mecca to all meat lovers.  Closed for lunch during our first stop in 2011, we crossed our fingers that it would be open for us this time.

What a beautiful landscape.  Panzano is a sleepy town with one main road. And there's only  one reason why tourists and locals alike flock to this small Chianti region...

It's a slow and gentle ride...on SS222,  but make a quick left turn before the bridge onto...

Via Chiantigiana

Antica Macelleria Cecchini

Antica Macelleria Cecchini is the main reason why the small town of Panzano is on every foodie's map.

Luck would have it that I would be meeting two Renaissance food artists on this trip: Dario Cecchini, a Tuscan butcher who loves reciting monologues from Dante's "Divine Comedy" while working,  and later in the week,  Gabriele Bonci, a Roman bread baker /pizza chef  reviving the use of grains and freshly milled flour in his pizzeria,  who believes the pizza should be open to interpretation and toppings reflective of locale and season.

 Upon entering the butcher shop,  you couldn't help but be drawn to the golden frame painting, green borders of beautifully painted bovines on ceramic tiles on the walls, hanging antique metal chains dangling from the ceiling, or the music playing loudly in the background. The macelleria (butcher shop) made up of two rooms feels more like a shrine with belongings dear to someone's heart.

 It's shrine-like....

like a museum ...

to celebrate love...

 a collection of how to celebrate...

...what matters the most to us.

A place where head to tail is used...

Sampling of porchetta!

We were greeted by staff members who eagerly wanted us to try the cooked meats, cheeses and cut fruit on the display table.  Eager to sit down, they happily escorted us to the backstage, through the butcher shop, walking up a flight of stairs and emerging in to a narrow indoor dining hall with its own grill area....

Walking out onto the terrace, we were seated in the last two empty seats. Lucky for us.  The terrace is known as MacDario.  It is his version of a classy burger joint that turns into a steak-only restaurant, Officina della Bistecca on the weekends.

Wasn't expecting a lovely lunch of...

Simple goodness....

among locals...

Artisanal Thumbs up!

Meeting Dario the artist in his workshop was exciting for me especially after reading "Heat" by Bill Buford, a food writer/editor turned apprentice who chronicles his culinary life at Mario Batali's Babbo and writes a wonderful narrative account of his apprenticeship with  Dario! If possible, read the book before paying homage to the Dante-loving butcher.

After Florence, we drove down to Cortona.  Upon our arrival,  we walked to stretch legs toward the town center and found ourselves in the middle of a fairy tale.  Luck would have it that we would be in the middle a festival commemorating Santa Margherita. We watched the townspeople walk, procession style, along the town square, dressed up in beautifully sewn custom period wardrobes that would be typically worn during the Medieval times.  I don't know how much better to describe their wardrobes than to post a couple of the pictures I took that afternoon.  This particular gentleman caught my attention with his exquisite features.  Later, the same gentleman would be serving us our dinner at the nearby trattoria.  A less serious look with as much grace.

 Our last night in Italy would be flying out of Rome. Since we weren't remotely close to the Molino Marino, we thought there would be a strong possibility that we could stop by Pizzarium. It used to be collecting postcards and groovy T-shirts when traveling to faraway places in your twenties.  These days, it's acquiring that bottle of balsamic vinegar or local honey to take home with you.  Something small to cherish and remind you of your windwhirl trip. Tonight, it would be picking up a couple bags of Mulino Marino flour! What better way to relax in your last night in Rome.  Hurry.

After having a wonderful meal near the Piazza..ahhh, those fried artichokes first come to mind, we hurriedly took the Metro to Pizzarium.  Arriving exactly 10 minutes before the doors closed, I picked out the prized bags of Mulino Marino 0 flour, and a copy of Bonci's pizza book.   Neither of us had any appetite to order any of the beautiful Pizza Taglio behind the glass counter, but I certainly had the excitement to take photos of the small, yet wonderful place.

We made it!!!

I snapped this photo without even realizing the maestro was in the kitchen....!

A bread baker first....

Stone-milled flour....

...Pizza della Romana...

....a new fan of Pizza Taglio!

Stay tune for my next blog:  My Weekend Pizza Marathon with Gabriele Bonci in  NYC!


  1. This is the coolest blog I've ever seen! Do you know of any amazing pizza in Calgary I have to try?

  2. Thanks Stacey! Sorry I'm not familiar with pizzerias in Calgary, but I'd look on Yelp for restaurant reviews...not sure if you have Yelp in Canada...

  3. Hi Sharlene! Greetings from Chris and Julie in Brazil (for 7 months and 22 days more...but who's counting!). Thanks for sharing the Italy trip update...what great photos and fascinating experiences. My mouth is watering from looking at all that wonderful food and the skill, pride and care they prepare it with. Keep the dream alive for bringing Pizza Napolitana to Charlottesville! We'll certainly join you in backing another shot at Kickstarter! Looking forward to seeing the NYC trip update. All the best.

    1. Chris & Julie!! Thanks for reaching out again! Glad you're enjoying the updates. I find myself enjoying them months later...we have such busy lives and reading these posts make me reflect and realize how lucky I am to have had these experiences. Please stay in touch so we can all meet at my next pizza party!