Seeing Stars

As a lover of good wine, I am – quite obviously – also a lover of great food. So in my meanderings around Italy, this year I decided to start making a point of visiting Michelin starred restaurants, especially those of young, up-and-coming chefs. The ones with the stars in their eyes.

First stop: Umami, in Andria (Puglia), to sample the exquisite fare of Felice Sgarra, the 36 year-old chef who puts soul into these dishes…

Yours truly with Felice Sgarra, at Umami

I would say ‘If you’re in the area, make a point to have a meal there’ but actually, you should go out of your way to have a meal there. I’d say anywhere on the Italian peninsula is close enough to make a detour worthwhile. You’d also be able to visit the nearby Castel del Monte, and the even closer seaside jewel, Trani.

1 star, 5 years running…


Minimalist, elegant, an olive oil tasting lets you sample what is known as Puglia Gold.

Amuse-bouche and a plate of memorable oysters… The little red gelatin cube is Campari-flavored, as is the sorbet atop the oyster! Talk about imagination…

Stunning presentation, the freshest of ingredients, the cascade of flavors… it reminds one of all that is marvelous in nature.

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Yes, there is always room for dessert!

Still in the wine-soaked region of Puglia – which also seems soaked in Michelin stars at this point – I tasted the exquisite cuisine of Quintessenza in Trani. The Di Gennaro brothers – all four of them! – make you feel at home in the essential elegance of their intimate restaurant.

Yours truly with Stefano Di Gennaro, and one of his brothers


I love talking to these creative geniuses almost as muchas I enjoy eating their food! Knowing what you are about, feet firmly planted on the ground, a delightfully grounded personality allows Stefano Di Gennaro to stargaze… the first Michelin star arrived in 2016.

My ring matched the wine! Amuse-bouche set the scene…

This is a question of colors, textures, tastes.

Is your mouth watering yet? Here we find traditional ingredients prepared in an innovative way, like the tortelli di ricotta with red shrimp on a Moscato di Trani bisque, or the spaghetti with kale (cavolo nero) puffs, shrimp and lemon…

Miraculously, here too I found room for dessert!

In the better-known, beaten-path region of Tuscany, I made it a point of stopping in at Ristorante Giglio in Lucca. TDNQ6575

This charming walled city with its many stunning churches made of the white Carrara marble that is quarried nearby is also a capital of olive oil. What I love is being able to taste the authentic, local flavor.

Our expert waiter posed with the magnum of Lucca olive oil

Ristorante Giglio is in some ways a Lucca tradition, but here we are dealing with a new generation of chefs: Stefano Terigi, Benedetto Rullo, Lorenzo Stefanini (I actually saw two of them, but didn’t really get their story…. They are chefs, after all, not rockstars or storytellers!) Traditional region, non-traditional cuisine using a mix of local and international ingredients.

On the left, sunflower seeds cooked as if they were risotto rice and garnished with snails (which sound better as escargot, but taste just as delicious!), black truffles and cilantro. On the right, an actual risotto made with garam masala and buried, raw shrimp that cooked just a bit by the warm rice.

Above left, a more traditional veal cheek cooked in a Montecarlo, a local red wine, reduction with mashed potatoes… It only looks like old fashioned cuisine! And on the right, scallops served with wasabe, pomegranate seeds, cucumber and horseradish. Amazing!

It is no wonder that Italy can now boast 367 Michelin stars for 2019. Check out the full list, region by region.

Anyone want to join me?

Here I am, Italian Grapevine at Ristorante Giglio in Lucca, hard at work, tasting for you on location in Italy.  Buon appetito!

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