Words by Bruce McMichael

A warm, early evening breeze blows gently across a leafy courtyard and through the doors into a welcoming light reflecting around the dining room of a small Italian seaside restaurant with rooms. Inside Locanda Rocco da Francesco in Sirolo on Italy’s east coast, we catch glimpses of beautifully laid tables covered by crisp, starched white tablecloths. By each table setting was placed a sheet of glossy paper boldly coloured black red and white. It showed a photograph of a young man, smiling, with tousled hair looking optimistically forward, into his future. Alongside the image was a menu of eight dishes, a flight of culinary genius created and cooked to honour the young man in the photo, Francesco.

Fondly known as Checco, he held dreams of becoming a chef and creating great, delicious meals. However, this evening was organised in honour of his life which was tragically cut short by a car accident while training to fulfil a passion for cooking, shared with his father Georgio, and of becoming a professional chef. Part of a series of eight dinners hosted this year under the title ‘Sognare con Francesco’ (Dream with Francesco), this evening’s event was organised by his parents, Daria and Giorgio Tridenti, owners of Locanda Rocco. To remember and honour Checco’s life, Daria and Georgio have created a scholarship helping  young people to study at the prestigious professional chefs school, Accademia Niko Romito in Abruzzo.

This dinner was a fund raising event and Cook_inc. was kindly invited. Michelin-starred Italian chef Riccardo Camanini was working in the kitchen. It was an evening where emotions were expressed through the food and wine, throughout a menu celebrating Checco’s life and love of cooking. Chef proprietor Riccardo, of Ristorante Lido84 on the shores of Lake Garda, bought a small team with to work with Locanda Rocco’s brigade. Each courses was paired with natural wines grown on the Italy/ Slovenia border. Riccardo, a long-time friend of Daria and Giorgio, created the menu highlighting classic and modern Italian cuisine. “Cooking was a dream for Checco,” said his father, Georgio. “Through this scholarship we can keep his dream alive”.

The start of the meal veered from delicately baked Crackers with cassava and leek in an eel sauce, to Creamed pumpkin soup with curry seasoning. Both delicious delicate, and offering crunchy mouthfeel to be calmed the soup and its mild curry flavouring. Later, a plate of delicious silky Risotto coloured a bright green and made with celeriac and lovage oil was served. Creaminess was given to the rice by using the oil and not butter or cheese, making the dish good for those with lactose intolerance. A quick spray of Yersinia, an anise liquor made to a secret recipe but including almonds, added a final flourish. Riccardo’s signature dish of Cacio e Pepe cooked in a vescica (pig’s bladder) was ceremoniously served with a sharp knife piercing the inflated ball and releasing steam and wafts of cheese and pepper aromas into the room.

Courses were paired by wines from the Terpin winery, expertly matched and poured by the grower Franco Terpin, whose work in the vineyard have given him strong hands and wrists that bear witness to many hours pruning vines and working in the cellar. Franco and his wife Danielle make natural wines using long macerations and ageing to produce fragrant, wild, colourful, textural white and red wines. The evening atmosphere was reflected in a menu full of love, creativity and thoughtfulness. It was part of a series of eight chefs cooking eight menus at Locanda Rocca over this summer and autumn. Invited chefs included Valerie Piccini of Caino in Montemerano; Vincenzo Cammerucci of Ravenna’s Cami restaurant, and Sven Chartier from Saturne in Paris, Josean Alija from Nerua in Bilbao, Karl Baumgartner from Schöneck in Molini di Falzes, ending with Accademia Niko Romito on the 17th of December.

For our night, Riccardo chose to end the meal with sweet dish of Torta di rose freshly baked served with a brightly flavoured zabaione using lemon zest from fruit grown on the shores of Lake Garda near his home and restaurant. So, as the evening drew to a close and the breeze softened, we left the restaurant and gazed out over the Adriatic Sea which during the day is an inviting, deep turquoise colour and in constant motion and peaceful, and contemplated on the lost promise of Checco’s life.

Locanda Rocco Hotel & Ristorante

Via Torrione, 1

60020 Sirolo (AN)

www.locandarocco.it