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Legend of the Italian top gastronomy – Nadia Santini

By: Reading Time: 3 Minutes

As the first woman to win a coveted three Michelin stars in truly cuisine-crazed Italy, Nadia Santini has been making gourmet history for nearly three decades. How the Italian became the official best chef in the world without any formal training – and what her honeymoon has to do with it.

THE FACTS in this case are deceiving: Sure, Nadia Santini should rightfully be called the grande dame of top Italian gastronomy. After all, the 69-year-old is the first female chef in Italy to be awarded three macarons by the Michelin Guide. Born in northern Italy, she has held the scarlet red gastronomy bible’s highest ranking since 1996. For 26 years, Santini has been among a very small, illustrious group of three-star locations that have managed to retain their distinction for such a long period of time, even on an international level.


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Just a reminder, with 25 years, Schwarzwaldstube continues to hold the record in Germany, which it achieved under Harald Wohlfahrt, who stepped down in 2017. Either way, the term grande dame sounds like a stately retiree who enjoys her fame even more than her retirement – and floats above it all in a demonstrative way. None of this applies to Nadia Santini.


To this day, the full-blooded chef, known for her down-to-earth approach, stands behind the stove of her legendary restaurant Dal Pescatore almost every day.

Curious to see what Nadia Santini’s restaurant, Dal Pescatore looks like?:

Located in Canneto sull’Oglio, Lombardy, just south of picturesque Mantua, its rustic Italian dishes with a twist à la française have endured in some cases for decades. First and foremost, their pumpkin tortelli. Anyone who takes in the – no doubt brilliant – simplicity of this recipe gets a sense of how uncompromising Santini’s bond with (northern) Italian cuisine is. Particularly in times of obsessive innovation, the top chef likes to invoke the bonmot of Italian sociologist Constantino Cipolla. “Tradition,” he once said, “is everything worth passing on from one generation to the next.”


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This principle is taken quite literally in the Santini family. Nadia’s sons Giovanni and Alberto have been leading the restaurant for years, Giovanni as a chef of the same standing, and Alberto as sommelier. With Lorenzo – Giovanni’s son – the fifth generation is already waiting in the wings.


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But how did it all start, and how did Nadia Santini become what she is today?


Born in the tranquil industrial town of Vincenza, Santini met her future husband in Milan, where she was studying political science. Antonio came from an old restaurateur family in the Lombardian hinterland. In 1925, shortly after the First World War, his grandfather opened a pub there that his son – Giovanni’s father – eventually transformed into a restaurant together with his wife. During their honeymoon in France, the Santini newlyweds visited some of the best restaurants in the world at the time. “It was like a revelation,” Santini says, when remembering Relais&Chateaux.


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“We discovered the art of beautiful living and top gastronomy there.” After that, one thing was clear: the Santinis wanted to dedicate their lives to gastronomy. Nadia learned all her kitchen skills from Antonio’s mother. As a self-taught artist, she relentlessly perfected her craft – and over the years became one of the best in her guild. To this day, Santini is considered by female chefs and restaurateurs to be a shining beacon in the testosterone-filled ocean of top gastronomy. Anne-Sophie Pic, for example, describes her as one of the greatest inspirations – and she certainly won’t be the last to look up to Nadia Santini.


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Fact sheet: Nadia Santini
    • Born in Vincenza in 1953, Nadia Santini met her future husband Antonio when she was a student in Milan.
    • In 1974, she married the scion of a long-established family of restaurateurs – and experienced a series of culinary revelations on her honeymoon in France. From then on, it was clear to both of them that they would take over their parents’ restaurant. Antonio worked in service, while Nadia learned the kitchen trade from her mother-in-law.
    • Over the years she became one of the best cooks in the country.
    • Since 1996, three Michelin stars have shone above her Dal Pescatore.
    • In 2013, she was named “World’s Best Female Chef.”
Have a look at these other amazing female chefs:

Star chef: Antonia Klugmann

Canadian top chef: Jessica Rosval

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