Married at last

Renato Rizzardi and Sergio Olivetti, chef and maître: married after 27 years together. Here’s their story

19-12-2016

Chef and maître got married: Renato Rizzardi (to the left) and Sergio Olivetti are the soul of La Locanda di Piero in Montecchio Precalcino (Vicenza). On the 26th September they got married after 27 years together, a first for Italian fine dining. They told Identità Golose their (beautiful) story

Renato starts the story, sitting calmly in front of us. Sergio instead walks up and down, almost hectically, busy preparing for the evening service: meanwhile he catches the jokes made by the latter, confirms details, adds some note. By magic, the resulting dialogue is not fragmented, in fact it’s part of a sole story, their own. Of a narration that has them as main characters, always together: their lives are flowing in unison. We’re at La Locanda di Piero: Renato Rizzardi is the chef, Sergio Olivetti the maître-sommelier. There are many restaurants in Italy that could dream of such a synergy between kitchen and dining room. It’s something hard to match as Renato and Sergio are an indestructible couple, in business and in life too.

More than that: on the 26th September this year they got married in the inspiring setting of Villa Capra, a Neopalladian building in Sarcedo (Vicenza), thanks to the new law on civil unions, after living together for exactly 27 (!) years: it was the first gay marriage in Italian fine dining. There’s a picture portraying them as they leave the villa, surrounded by soap bubbles. And there’s another one, during the following party, when they were not the ones cooking, but two friends, two colleagues and intelligent men cooked instead: Alessandro Dal Degan of La Tana in Asiago and Alberto Basso of 3Quarti in Grancona.

Renato Rizzardi and Sergio Olivetti, in the middle, between the two chefs who prepared the wedding dinner, Alessandro Dal Degan of La Tana in Asiago and Alberto Basso of 3Quarti in Grancona

Renato Rizzardi and Sergio Olivetti, in the middle, between the two chefs who prepared the wedding dinner, Alessandro Dal Degan of La Tana in Asiago and Alberto Basso of 3Quarti in Grancona

A nice story. They told us about it when we visited them in Montecchio Precalcino (Vicenza), at La Locanda di Piero. Renato was born in Vicenza in 1961. He had a diploma in surveying and a passion for cooking and art, and at first couldn’t make up his mind whether to be a cook or an archaeologist. He chose the kitchen («My father was an engineer, and when I told him my decision, he turned up his nose. I had to enrol at catering school in Recoaro in secret. I started with an internship on the Altopiano di Asiago, so as to earn some money: I spent the summer cooking pork chops»): the first real experience was at Bulesca in Rubano, owned by the Alajmo family, «I would sleep in the hotel on top of Le Calandre. I remember Massimiliano Alajmo as a child. In my spare time I helped his mother Rita make desserts».

Then he wanted a starred experience. He sent his CV, got two replies: San Domenico in Imola e and Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence. He chose the former, «I believe I made the right choice». He returned to Veneto after ending up almost by chance in the US: «At San Domenico they wanted to open in New York. The plans fell through but I had made contacts and they offered me a place as assistant chef at Donatello inside the Pacific Plaza in San Francisco, which was the best Italian restaurant in the area at the time. The chef quitted shortly later and I ended up guiding a team of 24 people, I don’t know how».

The cake that Marcello Trentini, chef at Magorabin in Torino, made to celebrate the marriage of Renato e Sergio

The cake that Marcello Trentini, chef at Magorabin in Torino, made to celebrate the marriage of Renato e Sergio

Speaking of his return to Italy, to Padua to be precise: in 1989 he’s at Antico Brolo «I wanted to take over» when he meets Sergio Olivetti, two years his junior. Originally from Lazise (Verona), he was then a student of Medicine, «with some doubts». It was love at first sight: they fell in love and started a relationship. The life of a chef, however, is hard, «we work when others are free, we’re free when others are at work», says Renato.

So in order to be together they built their nest, La Locanda di Piero: that is to say they took over on the 1st January 1992. «The investment drained all our finances at first, it was a real challenge. Luckily, we won». This is how they settled: Sergio changed faculty and switched to the less committing Political Science, so as to help Renato («I told him I’d try for six months, I’ve been here the past 25 years»). The latter is in the kitchen, the former in the dining room, so they can share their day: «I knew nothing of the profession – says Sergio – I guess the waiters smelled a rat, and were rather diffident…». But then he started to study, attended courses, and now he’s a perfect, competent and very courteous dining room man.

Tortellini with suckling pig, sweet and sour sauce with acacia honey, Stark red apples, plums and poppy seeds: one of the good dishes that the writer has tasted at La Locanda di Piero (photo Tanio Liotta)

Tortellini with suckling pig, sweet and sour sauce with acacia honey, Stark red apples, plums and poppy seeds: one of the good dishes that the writer has tasted at La Locanda di Piero (photo Tanio Liotta)

Not that they were hiding their special relationship: yet in 1992, in the province, it wasn’t that easy, «there was no Internet at the time, no mobile phones: you felt as if you were the only one in the world, and everyone noticed this peculiarity. Especially at first, there was a little coldness, some veiled hints, something unsaid, jokes that were never direct. Then everything became normal, everyone got used to consider us as a couple. When I told my mum, who didn’t know yet – says Renato – she blamed me for not telling her sooner. I said: “Come on, until yesterday you would say at home that you would rather have an addict or a thief as a child, than a gay!”». (Please note that Mrs Rizzardi was at their wedding, «and at the end said she had never seen such a beautiful ceremony. The next few days she couldn’t leave the house, everyone was congratulating her»). So they kept to themselves, which even these days is not always easy: «When we got married and the news was on the Giornale di Vicenza, our waiter told us that sometimes he’d catch some comments…».

A leap ahead in time and we get to the wedding (the following story of La Locanda di Piero is known: it establishes itself as one of the best restaurants in Veneto, «we were known to be good, for few and expensive. Our typical client was from Milan, not local»). Last summer. Sergio: «They were about to approve the law on civil unions. At one point I was watching television and Renato gets on his knees: “Sergio, will you marry me?», crying. I: “Of course I will. Get up, you silly man”. I’m a very shy person, I love joining the group, not being the heart of the scene. Let’s say I thought: “Sergio, this time you must expose yourself, it’s for you but it’s also for a good cause”».

Any disagreement? «The usual, starting from the ceremony – laughs Renato – As per his nature, Sergio would have preferred something small, with ten guests. Instead, I was thinking of a big party, with us arriving in a carriage... We found a compromise». Sharing life and work, almost 24 hours a day, is not easy. Renato: «We’ve managed to run a restaurant together for 25 years because we’re a family. Of course there’s the daily fight, sometimes lively ones too. In this getting married is of help: you fight but then you think: “Well, come on, he’s my husband now”». They smile a knowing smile.


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