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Chef Maria Grazia Soncini

Cooking techniques have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. But all those LED screens, buttons and gadgets don’t mean a thing if the produce isn’t up to scratch. This is something Grazia Soncini knows very well; luckily, her restaurant is based in Codigoro, Emilia-Romagna, which has the sea, forests and the river Po on its doorstep, so all sorts of fantastic ingredients can be found locally.

Born in the 1960s, Grazia was put to work at the very young age of seven in her grandparents’ restaurant, La Capanna di Eraclio. Originally opened as a coffee shop in 1922, it only started serving food around the time Grazia was born, as more people had cars and would come to eat, dance and stay over.

As soon as she finished school, Grazia joined the family business full-time. The food has always recreated those fondly remembered, relaxed, home-made family dishes, without all the bells and whistles some restaurants fall foul of. Thanks to this homage to simplicity and comfort food, La Capanna di Eraclio won its first Michelin star in 1999 and has held it ever since. Grazia’s mother Wanda still helps out in the kitchen, making the whole business a true family affair.

Grazia is a big fan of anything bitter – radicchio is a particular favourite – but it’s the seasonal game of Codigoro that really gets her excited. This, combined with her traditional, relaxed approach to cooking and presenting food, has turned her family’s humble, rural restaurant into something known across the country. She’s incredibly passionate about her hometown and thinks it’s this loyalty that makes Italy so renowned for its cooking. ‘The food culture of Italy is amazing – every region has its own salamis and ingredients,’ she says. ‘Life is food here; it’s connected to everyone’s social lives and the smell of certain dishes takes us back to when we were children’.

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