La Peca: 30 years of goodness

An important anniversary for Nicola and Pierluigi Portinari’s restaurant in Lonigo. The secret of their success in their words...

19-09-2017

Nicola Portinari with the article from Il Giornale di Vicenza announcing the opening of La Peca, 30 years ago (photo by Tanio Liotta)

Photogallery

Our dinner at La Peca portrayed by Tanio Liotta. We start with the elegant appetizers, like this Frozen Gazpacho
Cucciolone di Parmigiano Reggiano, with drops of balsamic vinegar
Sphere of mushrooms cooked in oil, garlic and parsley, corn wafer, parsley and tuberous parsley
Moscow Mule with salmon marinated in beetroot, smoked potato and caviar

 

Nicola Portinari goes back down memory lane: «The first time we prepared piccione al sangue, they threw it back at me!». Presenting fine dining in the suburbs was hard, 30 years ago. Three decades later, instead, it’s time for anniversaries, and for praise: La Peca reaches an important goal, with two stars shining over it, without being affected by time, «this is also thanks to our young and very stimulating brigade [sous Fabio Chilese and Marco Faedo are respectively 34 and 30, for instance]».

Nicola and Pierluigi Portinari, with Cinzia Boggian, wife of the latter and a great dining room woman, in a photo from 1999

Nicola and Pierluigi Portinari, with Cinzia Boggian, wife of the latter and a great dining room woman, in a photo from 1999

La Peca, the new restaurant in Lonigo. The town is enriched by a refined setting on the first ramp of Colli leoniceni – The premise to be remarkable – This is what the young owners and managers have to say”: this was the title of an article on Il Giornale di Vicenza, from the 14th of February 1988, a few weeks after the opening, the previous December. And the Portinari brothers did indeed leave a mark, in fact a footprint (this is the meaning of the word “peca”, in Venetian): the perfect name because, as we wrote in 100 Chef x 10 Anni (Mondadori) “it’s as if they – being humble as well as skilful – took a step back, and mostly aimed to amplify the memory of the aromas they would breathe (and eat) since their childhood, when in the large family kitchen they’d feed 15-20 people per time. Their dad owned a butcher-deli shop for 55 years and knew what he was doing...”.

Nicola Portinari and the first Michelin star in 1995

Nicola Portinari and the first Michelin star in 1995

Nicola and Pierluigi Portinari in a photo from the debut, almost, in 1988

Nicola and Pierluigi Portinari in a photo from the debut, almost, in 1988

Nicola Portinari, born in 1964, was 23 when La Peca opened. His brother Pierluigi was only 3 years older. They started from nothing, rolled up their sleeves, even though they had little experience, in fact less: «At first, I had no experience whatsoever, but I was able to learn from the cooks who worked at La Peca from 1987 to 1989 when I became chef». Since then, he’s always improved. Pierluigi gradually developed one of the best cellars in Italy in terms of depth and modernity, offering the new galaxy of natural wines before and better than others. Nicola never stopped cooking and learning. In this sense, the experience with Juan Mari Arzak, in 2002, was crucial: «I learnt an essential thing there, that is to say that you must act at a team, in your restaurant as well as with your colleagues».

We ask Nicola: how can you keep the quality standards high (and have healthy revenues) for thirty years in a row? The answer is complex: «I’ve already mentioned two things: working as a team and creating a young and close-knit brigade, a continuous source of stimuli. Then you must reassure your clients, who don’t enjoy dishes that are too experimental, too extreme, in the long run. You need balance, starting from a historic base», which doesn’t mean lingering in the past. In our tasting, the eel and lamb are dishes from 2015, the spaghettoni and jowl bacon are this year’s ideas…

The chef in front of La Peca

The chef in front of La Peca

Then, the younger Portinari insists, you must always offer great ingredients: «There’s a lady who’s bringing 40 mallards in a few days time. Fabulous. I get lamb from a tiny farmer in Enego, pigs from a farmer who lives close by». With such products, a few ideas, the necessary techniques («Perhaps even copied from other countries, why not?») and a close-knit brigade, 90% of the work is done, «because everything gives you personality, and this is essential to be successful».

Nicola Portinari at Identità Expo nel 2015, with Gabriele Boffa

Nicola Portinari at Identità Expo nel 2015, with Gabriele Boffa

Asking for a report, on such occasions, is always nasty (and/or boring): epitaphs are round the corner. Nicola Portinari however replies with the usual intelligence: «I believe I have contributed in giving value to this territory, thanks to La Peca. When we opened, there surely wasn’t the culture and respect for food we have now. It was full of taverns and low quality agritourisms. The only restaurant of a certain standard was Casin del Gamba, which already had a Michelin star».

The trio at La Peca

The trio at La Peca

The territory has changed, and so have clients: «Today they’re much more careful, prepared, they pay attention to what they’re eating, look for vegetables and fish rather than meat [70%-30%] and it’s a bit hard for me. After all, we were born as butchers. However, they ask for game more and more often. I must say that after a few difficult years due to the recession, today there’s an excellent spending attitude, as long as there’s quality». Which fits La Peca perfectly.

In other words: good news from Lonigo. (And this applies to the food too. Our dinner was of the highest standards. We present it in the photo gallery by Tanio Liotta).
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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Photogallery

Our dinner at La Peca portrayed by Tanio Liotta. We start with the elegant appetizers, like this Frozen Gazpacho
Cucciolone di Parmigiano Reggiano, with drops of balsamic vinegar
Sphere of mushrooms cooked in oil, garlic and parsley, corn wafer, parsley and tuberous parsley
Moscow Mule with salmon marinated in beetroot, smoked potato and caviar
Tonic water gelo, lime and aroma of gin with scampi, red prawns and squilla mantis tartare
Bigoli, scallops and calamari, amatriciana sauce
Spezzatino inverso: parsley, tuberous parsley, tubers and corn. A fantastic dish, «the tubers taste like meat». True
Risotto alla pescatora 2017: Carnaroli rice, red prawns, zottoli, oyster, tub garnard, toasted calamari, black cabbage powder. Zottoli are baby calamaretti
Spaghettone tuna and onion without onion: a classic, delicious, in a new take with ventresca, leek, powdered capers
Impepata di mare: tub garnard, red prawn, calamaretti, molluscs and pepper
Baked eel with guava and tamarind: very elegant
Lamb in a panure of rosola with crispy and soft Jerusalem artichoke