“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” —St. Ambrose, 387 AD
Dining on the rooftop terrace of The Mediterraneao Hotel, I see a beautiful silvery building glowing in the city nightscape. A full moon hangs directly over its spire, a spherical light fixture in the dark sky. “What is that beautiful building?” I ask. “That is the Vatican, madam.” The Maitre Di answers respectfully. I wonder, “What do you think Pope Francis is having for dinner this Friday evening?” He replies, “Probably the same as you, madam, a little pasta, a fish, and cake and, of course, wine.”
There are many layers in the Roman mosaic. The ancient cobblestone streets and piazzas crowded with tourists; the historic churches and cathedrals. And the food. The food. Wherever the eye falls, it will unfailingly see the passionate unique Italian style.
The Mediterraneo Hotel is conveniently located a block away from the Termini railway station, so convenient for day trips. I could go to Florence and return the same day. And they send you out with a sumptuous breakfast taken on the terrace or in the cheerful dining room. Today, it is the annual 26-mile Rome Marathon. It starts and ends at Via dei Fori Imperiali with a backdrop of the Colosseum. Later, the streets around Piazza di Spagna are crowded. Here is where Valentino, Chanel and Versace entice us with their windows; and a stroll along Via Condotti is a must. Fendi Palazzo on Via della Fontanella di Borghese is the design house’s retail store with a new seduction: an exclusive boutique hotel with seven private suites and a branch of London’s Zuma Japanese restaurant.
One evening I taxi to Spirito DiVino in the Trastevere district. It is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Rome—this was the first synagogue built after Emperor Titus deported the Jews from Jerusalem in 70 AD. Inside, an oasis of lemon-yellow rooms separated by arches is set with about 20 tables. The family has come to the restaurant business via a circuitous route. Chef Eliana was a scientist and the right hand of Italian Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini; husband Romeo was in the fur business, and son Francesco is also involved. Romeo divulges the restaurant’s secret of success: “This is a restaurant where we would like to go. Eliana doesn’t cook for you, she cooks for us, in the market she buys for us, not for you.” Meats are free range, vegetables are organic. Chef Eliana has good taste, and it is evident from guests at other tables that whatever one has chosen from the menu, pasta, steak, local cheeses, there are smiles of satisfaction all around.
After dinner, Francesco shows me down a flight of stairs to the wine cellar built on a Roman square dating back to 80 BC, older than the Colosseum. Within these layers of stone and brick, I am surrounded by the entire history of Rome.
It Begins With A Passion for Cooking
In 1982, in search of a more personally satisfying life, Rossano Boscolo left the family’s Boscolo Hotels empire in Rome for Tuscania, a 2,500-yearold Etruscan village that predates the Roman period by 500 years. He acquired the ancient Convent of St. Francis and created Campus Etoile Academy, a school that has graduated more than 20,000 professional chefs who now populate the finest kitchens in Italy and Europe and even further afield.
“Innovation cannot take place without respect for tradition,” says Boscolo. Future plans include a culinary museum and his library overflows with a collection of rare books and culinary artifacts. I am in awe turning the pages of the first cookbook printed to have shown a fork! The pride and joy of the school is its “Simple Garden, an outdoor laboratory of learning.” The program is divided into three months of practical courses at the Academy and 3 to 5 months internship in Italy and Europe. I attend a day-long bread and focaccia class and I am struck by the profound joy shared by teacher and students.
Integrity, authenticity and passion fuel the engine of Etoile and, clearly, this emanates from Rossano Boscolo, scholar, gentleman, mentor and chef.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Publisher/Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.