Catia Uliassi: my dining room in pink

A staff (almost) entirely composed of women in Senigallia: our grace adds a completely different atmosphere

Luana Mariani, Daria Nakhaeva, Catia Uliassi and V

Luana Mariani, Daria Nakhaeva, Catia Uliassi and Vanessa Serenelli: the four female faces at Uliassi in Senigallia. Another woman, Sonia Gioia, discusses with Catia with the usual wit, collecting stories, secrets and backstage notes from a dining room with more elegance than others

Hostess in stilettos Catia Uliassi has chosen women for the 52 per cent that makes the difference in a restaurant: the dining room at number 6 in Banchina di Levante is Senigallia is female. Filippo Uliassi and Ivano Coppari remain the right and left arm of Catia, but the body bears female names, those the host chooses by regularly knocking on the door of catering school Panzini. In order to understand who is right for Uliassi and who is not, a look is enough, one night on the white beach in front of the blue Adriatic Sea. Those who are «accommodating, even with their colleagues, smiling, quick and ready to learn», stay, «those who come to show off eliminate themselves».

These are across-the-board virtues and defects which have nothing to do with gender. «True – Catia admits – But it is also true that women’s grace, complicity, elegant lightness and pace add a completely different atmosphere and warmth to the room». This is why the dining room of the two-starred restaurant has become an almost exclusive domain of women, wearing a chignon, dressed in black and with a bright smile.

Mauro and Catia Uliassi

Mauro and Catia Uliassi

Still, this hasn’t always been the case. «Who would have said», Catia Uliassi is unbelieving when she connects the flashbacks out loud. «I was 23 when I first started to work with Mauro. The girls who came from catering school knew so much more than me. I went mad because they obviously paid no attention to what I said and I almost always preferred working with men». Effort, hard times and retreats, a difficult beginning and a few impulsive decisions. «I was meant to graduate in Foreign Languages and stay at the restaurant only a few months. I never graduated and I spent a month thinking I’d stay in Argentina, following a ravishing love», she smiles.

It turns out that love was a flash in the pan, but one cannot consider her return as a step back. «It was an instant success. Mauro’s talent was immediately understood. Our numbers were incredible. It was hard but the only thing that didn’t scare me was the relationship with the public: I was born and raised in the family café and I knew how to treat people, especially thanks to my mother», the sweet matriarch, the first female in this story. «She was the one who taught me to leave every torment outside the door. She taught me not to count out my smiles, and the times I said good morning, thank you, and please. But not condescendingly, never. With naturalness and ease».

This was back in the Nineties. A past when cooks wore an apron to cook and perhaps earn some money, with no stars in mind. While Mauro stacks up kilometres and successes in the kitchen, Catia does her part. They soon experience the unexpected miracle of the first star. This is the turning point marking the destiny of them all. Even she understands then that they need to change approach in the dining room too. «I was enlightened by a visit to Pinchiorri. I dined in a small private room and saw young, beautiful waiters, so prepared I had no idea this was possible, serving dishes with a cloche and a big smile. I was charmed».

Struck in Via Ghibellina she returns home and summons the family. During the meeting she explains they need to buy silver cloches, clear the tables in couples, never alone, explain the dishes in detail and slowly. The second turning point arrives after dining at Dal Pescatore. «I was charmed by the matchless grace and culture of Antonio Santini. That time too I made more changes upon returning».

The bronze silhouette on the doors of the restaurant facing the sea watches over the dining room in pink. It’s a gift from a sculptor from Senigallia called Silvio Ceccarelli: “La Bambina”

The bronze silhouette on the doors of the restaurant facing the sea watches over the dining room in pink. It’s a gift from a sculptor from Senigallia called Silvio Ceccarelli: “La Bambina”

The gender revolution is a recent thing. A policy born by chance. Or maybe not. «I asked the catering school for staff. Of course I asked them to send me well prepared, cultured students and those with the highest marks were always girls». Like Daria Nakhaeva, 25, originally from Ukraine, who arrived in Italy eight years ago. She only spoke Russian. She now speaks three languages fluently, including English, of course. Or like Vanessa Serenelli, 20, a pure bread from the Marche. They are both bright and graduated top of the class. The team is completed by Luana Mariani, the other sister at Uliassi: «We’ve known each other for thirty years».

After the initial rivalries a motherly complicity arrived with her girls. Catia Uliassi recently turned 49 (and she celebrated with them). She no longer wears 12 cm high heels, preferring a more comfortable 10. Always stilettos, so comfortable so to speak. «When we have special events I ask them to wear high heels too. They’re not bad, I must say», and she says so with pride. The bronze silhouette on the doors of the restaurant facing the sea watches over them. A gift by sculptor Silvio Ceccarelli from Senigallia, titled “La Bambina”.

In sala

The public side of a restaurant seen by its protagonists: maître, restaurant managers, waiters


Sonia Gioia

A journalist by profession, curious by vocation, she applies her attitude to investigative reports and food features. She's author for Repubblica, Gambero Rosso, Dispensa​


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