I grew up in Texas, but my family is from Lombardy and Sardinia, so I’ve been going back and forth to Italy since I was a kid. I have always been drawn to the food and wine culture of Piedmont. With six growing seasons more or less instead of four, the region has incredible produce; the town of Alba is the origin of the white truffle. As you ascend and descend the hills and mountains, you are surrounded by green fields and vineyards, often with fog seeping in. When a thunderstorm approaches, you may even hear cannons early in the morning or late in the evening – the bursts of sound are thought to disperse the rain and protect the grapes. Because Piedmont has everything I could ask for in terms of food, I knew I had to cook there. I looked at a few restaurants and ate at many of them.
All’Enoteca stood out; I worked there at the end of 2014. It is run by chef Davide Palluda, who has become my mentor. What has changed my life in Piedmont is the attention to detail of its chefs. There is a tradition behind this: they respect the regimes and practices that have been built up over hundreds of years. You can bring a contemporary look, but what I learned from Davide – and from Piedmont as a whole – is that you have to know tradition before you can innovate. I run my own restaurant in New York now, but I return to the area four times a year.
My thing has always been to stay away from the tourist spots and find the little gems. I get the best recommendations around tables with friends, winemakers and other chefs. This osteria does that; this trattoria does that. I made a huge list of all their choices and then started eating at their place. Here I’ll tell you about some of my favorite places to eat and drink in the hope that Piedmont excites you as much as I do. Classic dishes, good wine, it rarely gets better. —Stefano Secchi, chef, Rezdora NYC
Piedmont of Secchi
“If you’re going to explore the real Piedmont,” says Secchi, you’ll find yourself traveling roads “small enough that it’s difficult to get two cars through at the same time.” (He’s happy to wait and let the Italians pass.) That caution will be rewarded — from modern Piedmontese cuisine to nonna’s cooking, these are the places that keep Secchi coming back for more.
The food at the upscale All’Enoteca, where Secchi worked for a year, just keeps getting better, he says. The way chef Davide Palluda plays with the boundary between classic and contemporary continues to impress him. A recent meal included vitello tonnato reinvented in one bite: Piedmontese tuna and caper sauce was shaped into a peanut, served on a cracker instead of veal. “You expect a peanut, but it’s tonnato sauce,” Secchi says. “It was an amazing meal.”