A total vocation

Antonella Ricci works up to 20 hours per day. The joy of cooking, however, wins on everything

Antonella Ricci, chef at restaurant Al Fornello da

Antonella Ricci, chef at restaurant Al Fornello da Ricci in Ceglie Messapica (Brindisi), third generation of women-chefs: from Nonna Rosa the restaurant was passed onto the daughters, Dora and Maria, and then to Antonella (who has two daughters...). The text of this article was edited by Sonia Gioia, unpocodibuono

Three generations of chefs have followed one another in my family. I am the last one and sometimes I ask myself if it is by chance that I had two daughters. Of course, in our kitchen, matriarchy has always been the rule, as women in the family have always represented a majority to which the men needed to adapt, at least from a numerical point of view.

From my grandmother, Rosa, with whom the adventure of Al Fornello da Ricci began, to my aunt Maria who together with my mother Dora pursued this heritage, up to me. I grew up between one and the other, in the midst of all the pots and the hectic work, holding onto the skirts and the aprons of these laborious, fun, creative women – and who knows how they managed to cook from morning to night with us children always in the way. The association of food and feeling, of feeding and caring, took form inside of me at that time. I guess even now, I still don’t know another way of making my loved ones happy.

Antonella Ricci and her husband Vinod Sookar, from Mauritius

Antonella Ricci and her husband Vinod Sookar, from Mauritius

This is why, when it was time for me to choose, after studying Economics at university and after years of semi-clandestine incursions in the kitchen, I made up my mind: I wanted to be a chef, I told my father, Angelo. He didn’t have any hesitation in supporting me, he was the one who taught us that in life we should do exactly what we wanted to. And this wasn’t a painless choice. I already knew that cooking is a job that fills your life so much that it steals it from you, because when you work 20 hours per day you’re living in a suspended time in which you stop being a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend. The vehemence of my dream won over the scaring vertigo of sacrifices and I made my choice.

This is how I happened to participate in Paul Bocuse’s master. And still in France, I spent two months of the course at Gilles Tournadre’s two starred restaurant in Rouen, during which I understood that there is no space for improvisation. It was a strict school. In the mornings, the chef first of all checked if you were clean and tidy. I don’t know what happens in the army barracks, but I imagine that military discipline follows rules that are similar to those regulating our world. The physique du role doesn’t suffice, you need to have character, and a bad temper helps. Because behind a dish there’s a clockwork in which everything needs to march on strict timings, where all the cooking needs to be in tune. Everything needs to be clean, immaculate, healthy: a single mistake, a distraction, can change a mouthful of health in a danger, a trap.

With this awareness I ended up to hold the place that once belonged to the women in my family before me. With a substantial difference: my grandmother would cook and remain silent. I was born after her, in a generation according to which the rest of the world is close and the spaces for women chefs are much bigger than they used to be, even though the proportion between men and women working as head chefs clearly shows which side weighs the most.

Al Fornello da Ricci, Ceglie Messapica (Brindisi), contrada Montevicoli. Tel.+39.0831.377104

Al Fornello da Ricci, Ceglie Messapica (Brindisi), contrada Montevicoli. Tel.+39.0831.377104

I was lucky in this sense too. I remember as if it were today, the afternoon, 17 years ago, when right after finishing work, I was on the bed, next to my mother, satisfied with my work, but also melancholic because I was aware that it would have been difficult for a man to accept to live next to a woman chef. Then Sandro Morari called me, inviting me to participate in a party organised by Igles Corelli in Mauritius. I flew to the other side of the world to leave the pain behind me and once I arrived I was sided by a local young chef, Vinod Sookar.

I immediately understood that he was an extraordinary professional, and after a couple of recipes prepared together we were both in love. Our first kiss was over a boiling pot of fish curry, and a few months later he came to Ceglie and announced my family that he wanted to marry me. My father, who adored him, said: “But are you really sure? She’s crazy”. Since then, we never parted, and our cuisine is that of two chefs who first of all enjoy eating, with creativity and different ideas, but with a common bottom certainty: a good dish is, first of all, nourishing, maternal, healthy.

As in Roberta Corradin’s story, “The soup angels”, when she speaks about the dish that Nadia Santini prepared for her when she had a fever, “I felt immediately better”, says the author, a miracle. The kind of woman chef I want to become always has the secret ingredient at hand, one with a healing power.

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L'altra metà del piatto di Elisa Arduini
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Caro Babbo Natale di Ana Roš
Io sono un cuoco di Antonia Klugmann
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Non siamo angeli del focolare di Cristina Bowerman


Female chef's life stories

Women who, for a moment, leave pots and pans to tell us their experience and point of view


Antonella Ricci

together with her husband Vinod Sookar, she's the chef of restaurant Al Fornello da Ricci in Ceglie Messapica, Apulia region

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