All over the world, young, talented chefs are apprenticing for well known, highly-respected, Michelin-starred, seamlessly run kitchens.
The process can be a grueling one and it could take years for a young chef to make a name for themselves. Their ultimate hope is to someday get their own shot.
Enter Tenuto Podernovo, a Tuscan winery and villa owned by the Lunelli family, who owns the sparkling wine brand Ferrari. Inside their restaurant kitchen, one such young chef is being given the opportunity to operate and create his own culinary experience at this boutique winery and villa.
Alessandro Zecchini is young and hungry, as one must be in that business. What isn’t so commonplace is that he is also humble and earnest.
He has spent the better part of his fledgling career studying under the tutelage of Trentino-based Alfio Ghezzi, who is at the helm of La Laconda Margon, a two-Michelin star restaurant.
Ghezzi, alongside the Lunelli family, has created a place for culinary experimentation and for innovative food combinations with sparkling wine throughout their meals served at Locanda Margon. With that example in mind, Zecchini is getting the opportunity to mix traditional Trentino cuisine with classic Tuscan flavors and ingredients.
Zecchini, filled with young exuberance, never takes a break. He spends his winters studying and working for Ghezzi, immersing himself in his cooking techniques, and learning how to achieve excellence in hospitality at Laconada Margon, only to come back in the spring and summer seasons to Podernovo to take over the job as head chef, honing his own style and inventing a cuisine all his own.
At Podernovo, the ethos of the property, as well as the restaurant, is for everything to be sustainable. With an organic farm on premises, Zecchini is given a vast variety of delicious fruits and vegetables to create dishes with. For instance, Zecchini is quickly becoming known for his mushroom risotto where he bakes mushrooms in the oven overnight until they become biscotti-like. Then he crumbles the hardened vegetable on top of the silky smooth, slightly cheesy, al-dente risotto.
Another one of his creative dishes is his handmade pasta with sardines and toasted bread crumbs. The dish is reminiscent of a Northern-Italian based dish, but fits in quite nicely with other Tuscan dishes like Tagliata di manzo, or Tuscan beef filet.
To accompany these dishes are the wines of the vineyards, the Aliotto and the Teuto. The Aliotto is a fruity and brightly fresh, well-balanced wine perfect for pairing with an apperitivo or with a pasta with a wild boar ragu. In the warmer weather, it also pairs nicely with grilled meats, fish or even local Tuscan soup.
The Teuto is a red ruby color with more complex aromas with hints of balsamic and pepper. While this wine has lots of strong tannins, it is still round and soft. This wine stands up to heartier pasta dishes as well as the chef’s mushroom risotto.
The aesthetics of Tenuto Podernovo in it of itself is something to visit for. The property and vineyard is located on top of the vine-covered hill in Terricciola, situated inside the wine zone of the Colline Pisane. This location is essentially within a microclimate that has rich sand and fossil deposits, making it ideal for grape growing.
The farm was purchased by the Lunelli family in 2001 and they began planting grapes in 2005 on 25 hectares. The family believes in biological farming and avoids using chemicals, in hopes of producing a higher quality product for their guests and consumers.
With Zecchini in the kitchen, the wines in the cellar and the warm hospitality of the staff all around, Tenuto Podernovo is a worthwhile destination tucked inside the beautiful Tuscan countryside.