March 20-25, 2013
Florence, Italy$2995.00/per person for a double room
To be invited into a chef’s kitchen is an intimate gesture. He (or she!) allows you to see the inner workings of his mind, like a personal laboratorio.
It is my great pleasure to work with Fabio Picchi, the chef, owner, and genius behind the culinary kingdom of Cibreo in Florence, Italy. Cibreo has been a point of reference for me for the past 20 years of coming to Italy.
The angolo of Via dei Macci and Via del Verrochio in the qaurtiere of San’t Ambrogio, as far as I am concerned, is the center of the universe. The outdoor market of San’t Ambrogio, within an arm’s reach, embodies the same attitudes and gestures of a Renaissance marketplace. The vendors offer their goods with the same expressions of old. Fabio recognized this when he and former wife, Benedetta Vitali started Cibreo back in 1986. The market was so close, it became his larder and his refrigerator.
Up at the crack of dawn, Fabio organizes his day and his kitchen based on what is fresh and seasonal, and is therefore reflected in his menu. His respect for traditional tastes is deep in his being. The combination of his strong, yet sensitive character, produces a body and depth of cuisine that is without parallel.
His attention to detail is an obsession. Combined with his super-active imagination, he finds a way to hit the mark with creative precision. I am not speaking only of his cooking, or the depth of flavor experience one has at the table. I’m saying that it’s a full-on aesthetic experience.
I am overjoyed to offer my guests this invitation to Florence and spend five days with Fabio, walking through each of these places with him, examining his gestures, listening to his point of view, seeing what he sees and in the end, appreciating the opportunity to walk with a cook in his own domain ending the experience with humble beginnings. We’ll end with a meal in his mother’s home: the base of his philosophy and approach to “family food.”
This spring, come celebrate this with us. This trip will inspire you not only to choose your ingredients more closely, or to cook in a more connected way, it will bring passion to whatever it is that you do and encourage you to find your “inner Fabio.”
Train yourself to recognize and taste the anima buona of things with a great sense of humor. After all, La Felicta’ e un obbligo. Happiness is an obligation.
A bit more about the “World of Cibreo” and why I love it so:
There are four different places to dine in the Cibreo domain.
There is the restaurant costoso. more formal and full of Cibreo charm and history with a staff that has spent more of their lives inside the restaurant than out. Walking into the door of Cibreo is like walking into your favorite family dining room. It’s familiar and appeals to the senses. It’s intimate and generous. Fine tastes of piccoli gustosi or amuse buche arrive beyond what you have ordered or could imagine. The wait staff sits down with you and tells you the menu by heart. Attention is acute. This is no ordinary restaurant experience and we do not speak of stars. It’s otherworldly.
Cibreino, it’s old name, is a trattoria connected to the restaurant, where you can eat a similar, yet limited menu for less and sit next to people you don’t know. It’s more popolare, for the people. Everyone should have the pleasure of a good meal with no exclusions.
Cibreo Cafe, across the street is a neighboring country of it’s own. Small, with only a dozen tables inside and a few handful outside. This is the domain in which I feel the most inspiration and find solace. I feel held in it’s cozy atmosphere, the soft velvet theater chairs, the timeless wooden floors and wainscoting, and the comforting butter yellow walls. The curved wooden bar, a bit elevated, gives a warm greeting to all that enter. It raises hospitality to the forefront and creates a central invitation to come in, sit down, relax and imbibe.
There is nothing in the glass case or on the counter which is not “the best thing of that thing” that you have ever tasted. It could be a piccolo panino con mortadella e mozzarella di buffala; a cloud of bread with two refined principesse dancing in between. In the right season, it could be the ciambella, a perfect doughnut, hot out of the oven. Once in the door, the atmosphere will hold you there and you will want to spend the day and half the night. At least, if you leave, you will drawn back. If you have been for morning cappuccino, you will find your way back for lunch. You wouldn’t mind coming with a friend for tea in the afternoon. And what about an aperitivo? The nibbles are the best, eclectic acoutrement in town with a more than decent wine by the glass or a classic cocktail. At this point, with the appetite sufficiently seduced, you want to stay for dinner, not wishing to move away from a realm that works. The food, the service, the pleasurable atmosphere, a perfect alignment of contentment. And don’t forget, if you are looking for a civilized, but relaxed after-dinner drink. This is the place.
I used to worry about myself that I felt like this. In America if you passed a day in a cafe or bar, they think you are a loser. Here, they expect you at least once if not twice or more in a day, and if you don’t show up, they show concern. In a nut shell, when you make a connection like this there is a feeling of belonging- an incredibly important and fundamental need in life. A cafe is not a home. But it can be un punto di referemento; a reference point to connect us to humanity in an everyday scenario.
The Teatro del Sale is the present Kingdom or Queendom, or perhaps both. Un piccolo Taj Mahal to Fabio’s wife, actress Maria Cassi, and an open kitchen to view the theatre of Fabio. With lofty ceilings of Renaissance design, the Teatro is a royal palace of creativity. A sophisticated, yet, comfortable home away from home for one and all (who are members that is). A private memebership-only club, one can become a member no matter what your nationality. You can come pay your yearly dues of 5 euro and be a part of an International community of bon vivant.
There is an open kitchen to watch the chefs prep. The wood-fired oven is visible, the rotisserie turns and the pots and pans steam. Various chefs, Fabio in particular, offers his own theater by yelling out the dishes through the glass door partition as he hands the food to the server for the buffet table. There is commentary and good food that shall I say, is worth it’s salt? One returns and returns, like a Rumi poem, “Come, come, whoever you are, ours is not a caravan of despair, come, yet again, come.”
The blinds go down on the kitchen and curtains rise up on the stage. All of the dinner chairs are turned around to face the stage where good things happen. Comedy, tragedy, music, film, dance and cooking lessons given by Fabio in story form.
All of this and more, is the genius of Fabio Picchi. A great humanitarian and brilliant restauranteur who understands the aesthetic and gastronomic needs of the people. Me in particular.