In partnership with her sommelier husband, this French-born chef has made Florence’s Ristorante Enoteca Pinchiorri one of Michelin’s most sought-after dining experiences. And now exports her recipes to Japan.
Oh, how they make one’s mouth water! Chard ravioli glistening on pristine herring mousse, topped with beads of caviar. The artistic, subtly styled photo is on the Instagram thread of Enoteca Pinchiorri, Florence’s most celestial eating establishment, with Chef Annie Féolde having earned three Michelin stars in 1992 – a first for a woman in Italy. The career path of this seventy-something culinary craftsperson – instantly recognizable by her wavy, two-toned hair – was initially blazed in her hometown of Nice, France, far from this 16th-century palace. Working for France’s postal services – back when they were called the “PTT” and covered both postal services and telecommunications, rather than today’s “La Poste” – young Annie became bored and fled to London to work as an au pair, then went to Florence, where the family scheduled to host her decided they no longer needed her. But her bad luck didn’t last long: When she became a waitress to make ends meet, she met and fell in love with Giorgio Pinchiorri, a handsome sommelier. She thus bade adieu to the French Riviera and said ciao to Tuscany, where Giorgio worked at the Enoteca Nazionale. He served wines by the glass, a novelty at the time, while Annie prepared a quiche lorraine that became quite popular, along with a buffet of cold meats and cheeses, all to be enjoyed with the wines. In 2004, the chef told Le Parisien that it was soon-to-be French Health Minister Simone Veil who was behind the change in the restaurant’s menu back then. “One day, she came in […] and refused lunch because our menu didn’t have any local dishes on it. I was really upset about that, so I decided to learn all there was to learn.” The self-taught artisan began studying everything about the cuisine of her adopted country and even began making her own well-designed dishes, guided by notable books like Anna Gosetti della Salda’s Le Ricette Regionali Italiane, which, in its own way, codifies the Italian culinary repertoire.
In the early 1980s, Ms. Féolde’s work at this establishment, by then renamed Enoteca Pinchiorri, was awarded an initial Michelin star. In 1992, that number tripled to attain the culinary holy grail of three stars. Of course, people came for the “neo-classical, precious and precise” dishes, as influential food critic François-Régis Gaudry described them. But they came just as much for the outstanding wine cellar forged over half a century: four thousand labels and over 100,000 bottles, including cascades of Romanée Conti, Pétrus, Sassicaia, and Solaia. When the media talk about the Enoteca Pinchiorri, they usually refer to a “duo,” and for good reason: Though the cuisine was initially designed to complement the wine, a more balanced and lasting dialogue quickly developed between the two entities. A way of doing things reminiscent of the late French chef Alain Senderens, who drove his accountant up the wall by uncorking grands crus purely for the sake of testing food-wine pairings. Italian labels now have a solid reputation, but that wasn’t always the case. When they first started out, Annie Féolde and Giorgio Pinchiorri sent local wines to the great French chefs, including the Troisgros family, Bocuse, and Chapel, whom they befriended. Some didn’t respond at all, others explained that they were unsuccessful in selling those wines to their customers, as the chef recounted in 2016 on the Gambero Rosso website, which is to Italy what Gault & Millau is to France. While Enoteca Pinchiorri has yet to venture into France with a second restaurant, it did open one in Nagoya, Japan. There, the Michelin inspectors awarded one star for the ravioli stuffed with game stew, the mandarin dessert composition of granita, jelly, and half-frozen ice cream, and the lampredotto – a popular Florentine sandwich of veal tripe. Chef Féolde has, in the end, managed to take Tuscan tastes to the other side of the globe.