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    DON ALFONSO – A MAGICIAN’S COOKING ON VOLCANO

    By Antonio Bozzo

    A world famous dish? The “Vesuvius of rigatoni” served in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, not far from the volcano that destroyed Pompeii. Sant’Agata is a small town on the Sorrento Peninsula, between the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi Coast. A postcard country, under a sky that is almost always full of blue, refreshed by gentle winds that blow from the sea and bring the scents of the Mediterranean scrub. A cluster of houses, destined to remain a dot to be discovered with the lens on the map. Instead, Sant’Agata is famous throughout the world because there, in a solid nineteenth-century house, it opens the restaurant (since 1973) and the Iaccarino boutique hotel. The “Vesuvio di rigatoni” – with pork, mozzarella, Gragnano pasta, tomato sauce, peas, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, basil – is the signature dish of the head of the family Alfonso. “If you want”, says Madame Livia Iaccarino, wife of Alfonso and mother of Ernesto and Mario, who work in the company, “it is a dish that explains our philosophy: quality and tradition. The quality of the raw material and the millenary history of our land. Tradition does not mean standing still in adoration of the past, but updating without losing the good we know how to express. Ours is a story of ancient knowledge and flavors. Livia Iaccarino is right to be proud of an entrepreneurial adventure for 47 years is a reason for life for her and her family. Not just work. Not only the Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant (named after the great-grandfather of the current Alfonso, who opened a hotel in Sant’Agata as soon as he returned from America, where he had emigrated); not only the splendid charming rooms of Relais & Chateau; not only the mountain that slopes down to the sea, which has become a gigantic garden of delights; not only the expansion in the world (from Macau to New Zealand to Toronto) and the collaborations with large hotels. “Yet when we started we were pointed out as two crazy”, says Livia smiling. “I was very young, then Italy was adopting a wrong way of eating, with industrial products, which betrayed its history.

    Don Alfonso 1890 has two Michelin stars and a cellar dug out of a sort of millennial well, with 25,000 bottles and over 1300 labels. It is difficult not to agree with Madame Livia, who as a tireless hostess welcomes guests with the refined elegance of someone who knows every aspect of savoir faire. Livia Iaccarino, a charming woman, of a beauty accompanied by the grace of her ways, does not cook. Her husband and son Ernesto, chef of the restaurant since 2003, take care of the kitchen. Alfonso loves working in the terraced vegetable garden, which he reaches with his Ape, as do the farmers of the Sorrento Peninsula, used to working hard to obtain treasures – herbs, vegetables, fruits, oil, wines – from a land of enchanting beauty. “He would also like to take me to the lands that give us products for our kitchens, but I prefer to dedicate myself to hospitality”. The two “crazy dreamers” have long been a reality to study, envy and imitate. For over a year they have opened another Don Alfonso 1890 not far from Matera, in Basilicata, in Lavello, within the San Barbato resort and spa. “We care about the development of southern Italy”, says Livia Iaccarino, “and we are happy to have replicated in a province like that of Potenza. Those who come to us come to eat the territory and appreciate products that must be defended, not plundered as has been done for a long time “.

    Madame Livia is well aware that food education is important, a subject she would gladly see in school, like mathematics and English. “We do workshops with school children to transmit the good of our land: it is not possible for the youngest to ignore what grows a few steps from their homes. We have always been fighting for the Mediterranean diet, made up of products, ideas and effort. It must be taught and spread. The Iaccarino family will not stop doing it, just as it will not stop continuing on the path of sustainable food, which also uses leftovers in a creative way. Today it is a trend to talk about a circular and sustainable economy. In Sant’Agata we have been doing it from day one. If you don’t believe us, come and visit us ”.

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