Mister dining room

Respect for roles, sobriety, Frenchmen. An interview with the great maître Antonio Santini

Antonio and Nadia Santini, husband and wife since

Antonio and Nadia Santini, husband and wife since 1974, maître and chef of the restaurant Dal Pescatore in Runate, a hamlet of Canneto sull'Oglio (Mantua), 3 uninterrupted Michelin stars since 1996. Born in 1953, the father of Italian service will close the first edition of Identità di Sala, with a lecture on Sunday 10th February

It’s all (or almost) Paul Bocuse’s fault. “In the Fifties the greatest restaurants were represented by dining room characters, extraordinary personalities who used to appraise Italian tradition. Chefs stayed in the kitchen, they didn’t get out. It was a harder job than today, what with the impossible schedules and the exhausting temperatures. Then came Bocuse and he said that it was necessary to give visibility to the chefs’ work, that the dish had to be garnished in the kitchen and the dining room staff had to take care of service alone. And so the chef took the stage and overflew. He became a sort of ultimate expert, of whom one would expect everything whereas he should instead respect the limits of his role and that of the others. Like in any company”.

Antonio Santini with sons Giovanni and Alberto

Antonio Santini with sons Giovanni and Alberto

Antonio Santini patron and ceremony master of the historic three Michelin starred establishment Dal Pescatore, speaks with affection and irony about the master of nouvelle cuisine and chefs’ media success. He knows France perfectly well, has founded in 1982 the association called Le Soste with Gualtiero Marchesi, and shares life and profession in Canneto sull'Oglio with his wife Nadia, best chef in the world according to the same transalpine (in 2000 at the Academie Internationale de Gastronomie’s Grand Prix) and with his sons, Giovanni by his mother’s side for many years now, Alberto with him in the dining room.

On Sunday 10th, on the stage of Identità di Sala, Santini will have the task of closing the day with an introduction to the history of half a century of Italian restaurant activity and with a more contemporary reasoning on the training of staff, with reference to this year’s theme: respect. “To me – he explains – this means recognising roles and respecting, therefore, the others’ responsibilities, just like in any team. Michel Bras used to say that when the food is good, it is worth 50% of the experience, when it is bad, it is worth 100%. Alone, it is never enough if the setting isn’t suitable and the staff is not adequate. This is why it is essential to invest in training and to appraise the young generations in the dining room. It is they, in many cases, who determine the success of a restaurant”. At Dal Pescatore, throughout the years, he has trained many young people. Some of them, after starting as commis, have today opened establishments around the world and are recognised as number ones at an international level. “We’re very proud of this. It means that we’re an excellent school and that, despite the family management, there’s space for our collaborators to emerge”.

Antonio Santini has learnt the job mostly while travelling (on honeymoon), together with Nadia, after catering school and a bit of university. They sat, as clients, at the most important tables of France, in order to observe, learn, understand how the dining room worked, which was the right approach to service: “My biggest lesson was at Georges Blanc. His restaurant in Vonnas is the demonstration that you can work with rigour but at the same time with lightness. The waiter should not steal the scene and become the protagonist of the experience. The secret is building a restaurant in your own image and likeness, including everything a guest would like to find. Those who visit us should never feel overloaded or out of place. We focus on sobriety, we try to measure our service according to the time each guest has, and to adapt to his needs”.

The guest, in other words, is (almost) always right when he crosses the door of Dal Pescatore. But don’t mention to Santini those who experience the dinner with their camera before they do so with their fork. “This is not right. The other guests must not feel on the scene of a film. Visiting restaurants is one of the most fascinating things, but you have to share it with those who sit at your table”.

In sala

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

Federico De Cesare Viola


Federico De Cesare Viola

Born in Rome, wine and food writer for Il Sole 24OreLa Repubblica and L’Uomo Vogue. He's a lecturer at Iulm and Food Media for several American colleges. Twitter @fdecesareviola

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