Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian

“Think of a ‘cuore di bue’ tomato, it’s like a sun-soaked steak”. This is a great quote by Hélène Stoquelet’s, the chef and soul of La Bottega del 30 Restaurant, in Villa a Sesta (Castelnuovo Berardenga).

You’ll find many more in the splendid book created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the restaurant (and the 20th anniversary of the Michelin Star).

But La Bottega del 30 is much more than a restaurant. And the book – texts by Tommaso Geri, photos by Dario Garofalo, translation by Gioia Mencarelli, graphic project by Cosimo Balestri – is simply beautiful.

It tells a beautifully romantic story. The story of Hélène and her husband Franco Camelia, who met in Siena at a party of the Contrada del Bruco.

She’s French and fell in love with Italian art thanks to the books read together with her grandmother Minou; he, who had “a moustache and goatee like D’Artagnan”, was a goldsmith, with charming words and gestures.

That’s how their love was born, and the desire to make a home together. So the story continues in the hamlet of Villa a Sesta, near Castelnuovo Berardenga, where they find their soul and their future.

It’s the end of the eighties, and Franco has an idea, as he’s staring out of a window in Villa a Sesta: “Why don’t we open a restaurant here?”.

This marks the beginning of a fantastic adventure, which tells the story of two people, and of this small hamlet too. Here practically everyone has had a part in the magical journey that led Hélène to discover the secrets of the local peasant cooking tradition, and which brought with it a Michelin Star twenty years ago.

Today, with her and Nadia Mongiat, from Friuli, La Bottega del 30’s kitchen still represents all of this. Dream, discovery, tradition, local products. Thirty years have flown by, always learning, experimenting, and looking to the future.

Some “guests” in the book talk about them: Riccardo Tattoni, Carlo Ferrini and Gioia Cresti, Claudio Ranieri. People who represent (or represented) the soul of Villa a Sesta speak with their voices: Girolamo, Alighiero, Duilio and Margherita.

“At first I did not want to be a cook – says Hélène – I just wanted to bring back up the flavours and the emotions that my grandma’s cuisine used to give me”.

Grandma Minou made Hélène dream in their Paris house in the fifties, hugging her granddaughter while reading those books about Italy that brought her here.

Books which have given life to another book: a project created with love, that has a real depth to it. This is a collection of faces and stories, of gambles and challenges, made of the same stuff life is made from.

Matteo Pucci