Friday, 5 April 2019

Food, Glorious Food! San Giorgio Café with Filippo La Mantia opens in Venice

San Giorgio Café with Filippo La Mantia - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, one of the loveliest, most peaceful and spiritual islands on the globe, now adds great cuisine to its offerings with the opening of the San Giorgio Café and food created by one of Italy's most renowned cooks, Filippo La Mantia.

With origins that date back to the ninth century, the Benedictine monastery on San Giorgio hosted Cosimo de' Medici when he was exiled from Florence in 1433. The Gothic church, Refectory and second Cloister were designed by the great architect Andrea Palladio himself. It hosted the Papal Conclave in 1799. After being transformed by Count Vittorio Cini as an homage to his son, Giorgio, who died tragically in a plane crash, it hosted the G7 summit twice, in 1980 and 1987.

I have been writing about happenings on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Giorgio Cini Foundation for more than a decade. Here's an article I wrote for Luxos Magazine which will give you an overview:

San Giorgio Maggiore: A Heavenly Island in Venice - where Humanism meets heaven



Filippo La Mantia at San Giorgio Café - Photo: Cat Bauer
The only thing missing from the island was some good food. Now, with the opening of San Giorgio Café, it is practically perfect. This "gastronomical project" was conceived by the Giorgio Cini Foundation "to optimize the reception services of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore," and was designed and created by D'Uva, a digital interpretation laboratory that offers interactive experiences and collaborates with museums and churches with Ilaria D'Uva at the helm, together with the dynamic Sicilian cook, Filippo La Mantia.

Filippo La Mantia was born in Palermo in 1960, and used to be a press photographer for crime columns, documenting the mafia war in the Sicilian capital in the 1980s. At age 42, he flipped his life around by moving to Rome and becoming a cook. He calls himself a "oste e cuoco" -- a "host and cook" and serves up traditional food with a Sicilian approach -- but there are some Venetian dishes, like risi e bisi (rice and peas) on the menu, which also includes Mantia's specialty, caponata di melanzane (eggplant 'caponata') that was so good I had two portions. And I learned what it really means to eat pasta "al dente."

Filippo La Mantia in the kitchen of San Giorgio Café - Photo: Cat Bauer
In Filippo's own words:

...I've tried to make it simple, captivating and traditional. I've played around with my own tradition and the Venetian one because I respect all the regions of Italy even though I always give precedence to my own Sicily, starting from Palermo. For example, I've read that rice was brought to Venice by the Arabs, and in fact a typical dish will be risi e bisi, or rice and peas. It will always be on the menu along with spaghetti with tomato and spaghetti with clams.
In my opinion, people coming to Italy must absolutely eat Italian. The menu will vary continuously; it must be a kind of prolongation of home, like "I'm going shopping, then I'll cook," and that's it.
I hope to be able to make frequent use of the kitchen garden of the Benedictine monks, our neighbors, and use all their produce which is grown with such care and love. In the end every project to do with hospitality and food is an act of love. I want everyone sharing this adventure with me always to have a smile on their lips. Hospitality, art and food are the elements which best represent Italians all over the world...

Personally, I think Pasquale Gagliardi, General Secretary of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, is a genius. Over the past 20 years, he has overseen the enhancement of the island, including Le Stanze del Vetro (Rooms of Glass), where you can visit a continually revolving, rich program featuring blown glass, and the new Lo Squero auditorium, where you can enjoy concerts with a stupendous view of the lagoon in the background.

Upstairs interior San Giorgio Café - Photo: Cat Bauer
The new San Girogio Café with Filippo La Mantia is the only refreshment place on the Island of San Giorgio with 80 place settings (about 50 outdoor) where you can enjoy a decent meal from morning to evening, or simply relax with a cocktail and watch the sunset. The interior is warm and friendly, with décor by Studio Architetto Paolo Richelli, and especially welcoming when the weather is not fine.

The kitchen is open all day every day except Wednesday, starting with breakfast at 10 AM. For now, dinner is available on Fridays and Saturdays or on request for special events. There will also be a €25 Buffet (not including drinks) with about 12-15 different offerings -- vegetarian cous cous, fish, chicken, pastas, rice, vegetable dishes, salads, etc.

The San Giorgio Café opens to the public on April 6, 2019. Go to San Giorgio Café, the café/restaurant of the Island of San Giorgio for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, one of the loveliest, most peaceful and spiritual islands on the globe, now adds great cuisine to its offerings with the opening of the San Giorgio Café and food created by one of Italy's most renowned cooks, Filippo La Mantia.

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