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Valeria Piccini

Michelin star chef and Italian icon Valeria Piccini is featured at this year's Italian Cuisine Week

For the past four years, some of Italy’s most famous chefs have come to Toronto to share their passion and their culinary flair with students at George Brown College as part of Sotto una Buona Stella (Under a Lucky Star).

This exemplary dining series, which is presented by the Consulate General of Italy in Toronto, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (IIC) and the Italian Trade Commission, in partnership with George Brown College, features the renowned chef Valeria Piccini from the Michelin-starred restaurant Da Caino. This restaurant is perched on a hilltop in the medieval Tuscan village of Montemerano.

Piccini was born in the coastal area of Maremma, but her family is from the Casentino Valley area, north of Florence, and came from a farming background. Piccini learned to cook alongside her mother and grandmother, and she never received formal culinary training.

She recalls how, when she was growing up, her family would use every part of an animal, from head to tail, so nothing was wasted, and all cheeses were made in the family’s kitchen. Every day, there was fresh ricotta in the house, so it naturally found its way into many dishes, like gnudi, in which flour is added to ricotta at the last minute to make light, fluffy dumplings. The food of her childhood still influences Piccini, who is famous for her pane con la ricotta (ricotta bread).

She even draws culinary inspiration from her studies at school, where her focus was chemistry. “It’s a sort of millimetric precision,” she said in an interview with The Florentine, an English-language monthly magazine in Florence. “For instance, there are times when it is important to use five drops of balsamic vinegar instead of seven. All of these tiny details make a difference.”

She became a chef “from sheer passion,” she explained, and her cuisine “sets out to be simple, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t seek to be creative, full of flavour and balance, aiming at virtually perfect flavours.”

Chef Valeria Piccini's Michelin-starred restaurant Da Caino is perched on a hilltop in the medieval Tuscan village of Montemerano.

Piccini took over the kitchen of her mother-in-law’s restaurant in 1987 (her husband, Maurizio Menichetti, takes care of the service and the wines). Da Caino is an elegant, intimate space with just nine tables to accommodate a maximum of 20 diners, who might enjoy potato and herring buttons with bottarga (Italian cured fish roe), ricotta and celery or, perhaps, Maremmana steak tartare with summer truffle, hazelnut and green oil. (The menu changes often and with the seasons.)

More recently, Piccini wrote her first book, Cucina Madre, which was published in Italy earlier this year and tells the story of the transformation of Da Caino from a simple trattoria into a world-famous Italian treasure.

The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1991, followed by a second in 1999.

“It’s a huge recognition and gratification for a chef who has made it on her own,” Piccini told The Florentine. “I didn’t go to catering school, so I had no foundation for ever aspiring to achieve this. It goes to show that with a desire to succeed, you can do just that.”

Under a Lucky Star

Sotto una Buona Stella

Sotto una Buona Stella (Under a Lucky Star) began in 2015 as a way to promote the authenticity of the Italian regions’ specialties and recipes, while engaging students at George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts. Last year, this unique culinary series featured cuisine from the South of Italy, while 2019 will focus on the delectable tastes of the country’s northern region. Although the lineup of outstanding chefs has yet to be finalized for this much-anticipated event, these three impressive Michelin-starred chefs are sure to impress and inspire with their exceptional talents.

Lorenzo Cogo is one of Italy's brightest chefs, and the youngest chef-owner to earn a Michelin star.

Lorenzo Cogo,

chef of El Coq in Vincenza

Cogo is the youngest chef-owner in Italy to receive a Michelin star. Now in his 30s, he has travelled and cooked his way around the world, studying cuisine at some of the most notable restaurants in Australia, England, Spain and Japan. El Coq’s menu is full of the best, most authentic ingredients from Italy, and Cogo’s creative dishes often feature exciting international flavours, making him a standout in the culinary world.

Gian Piero Vivalda,

chef of Antica Corona Reale in Cervere

The Vivalda family has been in the restaurant business more than 200 years! Antica Corona Reale was established in 1815 and is part of the Relais & Châteaux brand of gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels located all around the world. Vivalda grew up learning everything he could about the family-owned business. A Michelin-starred chef (he’s earned two), Vivalda is passionate about using local ingredients, especially pigeon, which he features in several of his dishes.

Fabrizia Meroi,

chef of Laite in Sappada

One of the most prominent chefs in Italy, Michelin-starred chef Meroi is a self-taught cook who has always loved all things food and being in the kitchen. She and her husband opened Laite in a little old house in Sappada, in 2001. This unforgettable restaurant boasts dishes that feature the finest-quality products and seasonal ingredients, and it offers the perfect wine to complement every meal.

November 19-25, 2018

Italian Cuisine Week

Italian Cuisine Week is one of those international foodie celebrations that should be marked in your calendar the minute it’s announced. Anyone passionate about Italy’s much-loved, world-renowned gastronomic and culinary traditions shouldn’t miss this feast of food and drink from abroad.

This year’s event hits cities across Canada from November 19–25, 2018. Events surrounding food quality, sustainability, culture, safety, education, terroir and biodiversity will be examined and explored, and there will also be an emphasis on iconic Italian eats, wine routes and the Mediterranean diet – all of which Italy proudly symbolizes. Italian institutions operating across Canada have been organizing promotional events in major cities to highlight the Italian culinary tradition.


On now, until November 30

The LCBO is featuring spectacular Italian wines across Ontario. You’ll find in-store activities, as well as a various marketing initiatives. Check your local store for details.


November 20

ITHQ (Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec) culinary school will be hosting chef Ciro Oliva, who will lead a master class and give a lecture at a conference at the University of Montreal. Contact ITHQ for details.


On now, until November 30

BC Liquor Stores will be hosting tastings of Italian wines from different regions in the country. Check your local store for details.


November 22 and 23

Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck of La Pergola restaurant in Rome will lead a master class at Vancouver Community College's culinary arts program. He’ll also be collaborating with chef Pino Posteraro, owner of the renowned Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill. Contact the college for details.


On now, until Spring 2019

Longos stores across Ontario are promoting authentic Italian food. Watch for in-store promotions, marketing activities, e-commerce and a specific Italian cheese campaign. Watch for promotions in-store and online featuring a variety of Italian cheese products.


November 18-25

George Brown College (GBC) culinary school will be hosting Italian Michelin-starred chef Valeria Piccini, who will lead a master class featuring authentic ingredients and products at GBC. A special market event will follow in the atrium of the college, featuring Tuscan food specialties and wines organized in collaboration with the Region of Tuscany and the Italian Trade Commission. She will also be collaborating on a charity dinner with chef Rob Gentile of Buca Osteria & Bar. Contact GBC for details.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.