Le Soste, the identikit of an association

What is Le Soste? What does it mean for a restaurant to enter our Association? What makes us different from other professionals of the same sector? An interview with Antonio Santini.

Often those who collaborate with our association (and sometimes even the restaurateurs who have just become members), even if they feel the glamour of Le Soste, its thirty-year-old story and the prestige of its members, have some difficulties at defining what it means to be a part of it.

To answer the question: "What is Le Soste?" the best thing to do is probably listen to those who took part in the setting up of the Association and whose commitment and example are still a reference for a number of chefs and restaurateurs who have marked the history of Italian cuisine as well as the life of our Association.

We are speaking about Antonio Santini, master of the Dal Pescatore Restaurant in Canneto Sull'Oglio. Santini was there on that distant night in 1982 when, during a dinner with six friends (two chefs and four restaurateurs) at the “home” of one of them, Gualtiero Marchesi, they had an idea to create an organization that, similarly to the great French associations, could allow our chefs to exchange ideas and projects as well as to promote new Italian cuisine to a new public of gourmets who was forming in Italy in those years; they thought of providing a number of trustworthy places where consumers could find the same ideals of the gastronomical culture, pleasure of the table, hospitality, kindness and elegance.

That night, together with Santini and landlord Gualtiero Marchesi, there were Roberto Ferrari of the Al Bersagliere Restaurant in Goito, Gaetano Martini of the Il Cigno Restaurant in Mantua, Andreas Hallrigh of the Andrea Restaurant in Merano and Rinaldo Krcivoj of the Antica Trattoria Restaurant in Boschetti di Tricesimo.

"However, what we were missing,” recalls Santini, “beyond good intentions, was the managerial skill: turning our decision into action, organizing and managing the association activities, that was not an easy task.” A great friend of the five founders, the eno-gastronomic journalist Antonio Piccinardi, took on this burden. Santini describes him as “a greatly educated man with restless passion.” Piccinardi took care of the bureaucratic procedures for founding the Le Soste group and made his office, located on Via Torino in Milan, available for the association.  Later becoming the first Association secretary, Piccinardi had a fundamental role in the maturation process of Italian eno-gastronomic press and Le Soste owed a lot to him because, without his commitment, - Santini recognizes – the idea of creating the Association could hardly have become real.

We want to remember the names of the restaurants that entered the first guide issued in 1982 where, in addition to the five founders, 13 other restaurants were mentioned, such as Al Rododentro in Boves; Antica Osteria Del Ponte in Cassinetta di Lugagnano; Antica Osteria del Teatro in Piacenza; Il Cavallo Bianco in Aosta; Da Guido in Castigliole d'Asti; Del Sole in Ranco; Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence; Il Griso in Malgrate; Il Sole in Maleo; La Chiusa in Montefollonico; La Frasca in Castrocaro Terme; San Domenico in Imola and Vecchia Lugana in Sirmione.

Those 18 restaurants were represented by a symbol (i.e. an arrow to indicate to the gourmets where they should stop) designed by Master Emilio Tadini. Even those who know little about modern Italian cuisine realize that Le Soste’s guide immediately gave a list of innovating people and this feature is still present nowadays.

This all means attention to the quality of ingredients with the development of research projects to search for and recover the gastronomical culture of the territory by using innovative formulas, at least for Italy, as well as processing and adapting regional cuisine to modern tastes. These were the key points those restaurants shared, united under the teachings of the great Franco Colombani and his association "Linea Italia in Cucina" (Italy Line in Cuisine).

"Le Soste,” Antonio Santini continues, “never wanted to be the association where the best Italian restaurants gather. The restaurants which are able to enter the association (then and now) have represented and still represent the best in style, history and culture despite possibly not being at the top of the charts. A restaurant can enter the Association if it has a strong character, proposes its own vision of Italian cuisine and does not care about current trends. In the recent gala dinner, which took place in Milan last 7th March 2016, the new members were the real protagonists with their dishes; and my firm beliefs were confirmed by the many journalists who expressed many words of praise for all the dishes served.”

"The annual day where the meeting of members takes place is followed by the traditional gala dinner where the new members introduce and present themselves. Besides that event, other meetings are periodically organized to meet quality producers; these are the most important events for our association because we think the most important thing is to create solidarity and occasions to come together and exchange ideas. Indeed, it is important,” continues Santini, “to never forget those who are no longer with us. Every year, before welcoming the new members, the meeting dedicates a special moment to say goodbye to those who have left us for different reasons or because they closed their business. When a restaurant closes – like the two great men Gianni Brera and Luigi Veronelli taught us – it is always a sad moment. And this is very true when a restaurant closes; it is like a friend who leaves us.  It is also a sad moment for the customers who appreciated it and sat in their dining areas and celebrated importantf amily and professional moments. When a restaurant closes, it is like all these people – including us – lose a part of their memory."

From 1982 to the present, the Association has gone through the whole history of contemporary Italian cuisine, starting from the arrival of Nouvelle Cuisine into Italy, overcoming it and arriving to a mindset which still looks at France but also opens to what happens in Spain, Northern Europe and the rest of the world. Le Soste has always been open to all cooking proposals without any exclusions and has considered every phase with curiosity and interest in order to improve our cuisine, thanks to sharing ideas and information in accordance with the original spirit of our Association."

A topic that Santini stresses concerns the real essence of Le Soste. "We are not an association of chefs and restaurateurs, but an association of restaurants." This is not a small difference because it involves all aspects that make the experience in a restaurant valuable.

From this concept derives an important obligation that every restaurant undertakes when it becomes a member of Le Soste, which is to commit to do their best to make their guests feel comfortable. It is also a commitment that our restaurants undertake to their colleagues because, when a client is given our Guide, the restaurateur guarantees on his own behalf that all the other restaurants in the guide will have the same quality of food and hospitality that make our members stand apart."

The ideas are clear even for the future of the Association. “Obviously,” stresses Santini, “our association lives in the contemporary world and consequently it is essential that we use all of the tools of communication (such as the Internet, social network and digital applications) which are commonly used nowadays. The Association needs to use a communication system suitable to the current times because people expect it. I want to say that the reader, nowadays, as well as the client and the consumer, want more information than in the past and we must be able to provide it quickly and clearly."

Finally, the last words by Antonio Santini is dedicated to the Association Guide. “It is our book,” he recalls, “the object that represents us the most with its glamour and elegance. It can be integrated by new forms of communication but it is an essential instrument. Nothing more than our Guide reflects the value and the wealth of our association and our commitment is to make it more and more prestigious, useful and international, thanks to the English version which is essential nowadays as the majority of attendants are foreigners."

Closing this conversation, we publish two documents as attachments. The first is a summary of the most important moments of the Association, and the second one contains the lists of restaurants that have entered the Guide year after year, a true cross-section of our Association story as well as of modern Italian cuisine.

pubblicato il 15/04/2016

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Associazione Le Soste
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