Buzzanca, surviving Gheddafi and the earthquake

Born in Tripoli, expelled after the 1969 coup-d’etat and having lost two restaurants in L’Aquila’s earthquake, Marzia started over from Padoan’s pizza

07-09-2017

Marzia Buzzanca, soul and engine at Percorsi di gusto in L'Aquila, together with two precious collaborators in the dining room, Alessandra Berardi and Oscar Colaprete. We owe the latter the creative pizza named after him. In the kitchen, two sous chefs, Donatello Cirillo for cooking and Alessandra Giliberti for pizzas

It’s one year after the earthquake that destroyed Amatrice, Castelluccio, Arquata and other places in Central Italy, but when you go to L’Aquila, damages and victims, a total of 309, date back to April 2009. The emblem of what happened then, in terms of restaurants, is a cook, sommelier and pizzaiola born in Tripoli some fifty years ago, Marzia Buzzanca. «I’m the daughter of a butler who then became a cook. I’ll never thank him enough for making me curious about wine and food. If I taste everything, it’s thanks to him. But I only entered the kitchen later. My first career was quite different. For fourteen years I was a rhythmic gymnast at a competitive level. I left that career when I gave birth, then came the dining room and finally the kitchen».

It’s a very long series of coincidences. There are people who won’t move an inch from where they were born, and others that move all around and are just as happy: «My great-grandparents were  Sicilian. My blood has a primary Sicilian DNA. Then I have a Greek grandfather and Apulian grandmother who moved to Libya during Fascism and the empire. My father was Italian, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, and I lived there with my two sisters until Gheddafi’s coup d’etat in 1969. Starting from scratch is a constant in the Buzzanca family».

Today, she feels deeply Aquilana, but not in the past: «It was by chance. Teramo… Roseto… then one sister got married in L’Aquila and I followed her so my daughter could attend university except she then studied oenology». Things go partly the way we want, partly the way fate wants.

Pizza Via XX Settembre with mozzarella, veal, lettuce heart, tuna sauce and caper flower

Pizza Via XX Settembre with mozzarella, veal, lettuce heart, tuna sauce and caper flower

Marzia continued to change, by choice or because of the earthquake, even in L’Aquila, two establishments in three different places: «In 1998 I opened Vinalia in Via Andrea Basile. At first it was a wine-bar with a limited dishes, but then the food offer grew so much I had to hire two cooks, first Apulian Felice Sgarra, then Aquilan William Zonfa. Today they’re both starred. I had made a good choice».

At Vinalia she worked in the dining room: «It’s a bit like with my father. I moved from hospitality to pots and pans because I had many allergies and I decided to open a new restaurant in Via Leosini, pizzeria Percorsi di gusto, where I could serve easy-to-digest pizza. It was February 2008 and I sent my niece, Tania Bonolis, to study with Simone Padoan following the advise of my coffee supplier Gianni Frasi».

The earthquake shook every plan: «I have two places in two roads in the middle of the red zone. Everything was destroyed. I had to think about a new future. I worked for six months as sommelier in Val di Fassa, then with Norbert Niederkofler in Alta Badia. I returned very determined and Tania told me she no longer wanted to live in L’Aquila. I was desperate. I called PadoanVinalia was lost, I wanted to start over with Percorsi di Gusto, but how?

A detail of the large poster at the entrance with dates, names and comments from all the chefs who over the past six years have cooked for charity with Marzia Buzzanca after the earthquake that devastated L'Aquila on the night between the 5th and 6th of April 2009. A series of events called 4 mani per ricominciare [4 hands to start over]

A detail of the large poster at the entrance with dates, names and comments from all the chefs who over the past six years have cooked for charity with Marzia Buzzanca after the earthquake that devastated L'Aquila on the night between the 5th and 6th of April 2009. A series of events called 4 mani per ricominciare [4 hands to start over]

Simone was decisive: come here, I’ll teach you. I can’t remember how many notebooks I filled. I reopened in July 2010. Sixty places available, all booked. It was the first place to start again in the red zone. People were very eager to get into the red zone. They had to be escorted, it was fascinating, there were strong emotions as well as dangers everywhere. It was hard. The support of  Niko Romito was impressive. Do this… change that… this is fine… I never felt alone thanks to him».

Back to present days. In Viale Croce Rossa, a sort of ring road that gets close to Forte Spagnolo, Buzzanca sets her eyes on a dismantled business. On the 6th of January 2016 the last service in the rubble. Works lasted 40 days and on the 27th of February she started over, including the four handed events that had started in June 2011. The first to cook was Davide Oldani. Later came Romito and Tassa; Sorbillo and Bonci; Bosco, Padoan and Pepe; Iaccarino, Uliassi and Boer; Viviana Varese and Deborah Corsi; and of course “her” Sgarra and Zonfa.

In a sort of Big-character poster, Heinz Beck doesn’t just write date, 3rd of March 2012, and signs, but he adds a comment: «See you in five years here in L’Aquila». The chef smiles bitterly: «The mayor of the time, Massimo Cialente, had just declared that by 2017, 80% would be completed». Beck didn’t trust him and he was right. The end-of-work sign is still a fantasy.

Entrance and garden in front of the new  Percorsi di gusto in L'Aquila

Entrance and garden in front of the new  Percorsi di gusto in L'Aquila

These days Percorsi di gusto is in balance between cooking (2 starters, 3 first courses, 2 main courses and 4 desserts) and the oven from which they serve 6 classic pizzas, 13 special ones and 6 focaccias. Dishes have famous names, Vitel tonné, Amatriciana, Baccalà al latte, or dedicated to the people who inspired them, Francesco Apreda and Spaghetti Margherita, Maurizio Santin and Tiramisù, for instance. Pizzas, instead, are inspired by the city’s street names: Piazza Regina Margherita… Via XX Settembre… Via Garibaldi… up to the one dedicated to Alessandro Negrini, Pizzocchero Pizza: mozzarella, cabbage, potatoes, bitto, pesteda and fried sage. I would have kept the garlic, but many avoid it. How about pizza Oscar, with cabbage, anchovies, stewed tomato, dehydrated garlic and capers from Pantelleria? It’s a tribute to Oscar, in the dining room, who first got the idea. A nice gesture because it’s much easier to homage three-starred chefs than a twenty-something-year-old at the beginning of his career. Marzia has received a lot, but she knows how to give it back. It’s rare.

Useful info: Percorsi di gusto is in Viale della Croce Rossa 40 in L’Aquila, tel. +39.347.5010544, e-mail info@percorsidigusto.com. Pizzas and focaccias cost between 6 and 20 euros; dishes from the kitchen cost between 12 and 18.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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