We interviewed Michelin-starred chef William Zonfa, one of the thirty most influential personalities in Abruzzo. He is an outstanding representative of the cuisine of this region, much appreciated in Italy and abroad, who has chosen his hometown as his permanent residence to pursue his career.
After his studies at the Hotel and Catering School and some important working experiences in Germany and France, William Zonfa decided to return to Abruzzo to run the kitchens of Magione Papale, an elegant relais in the countryside with a traditional restaurant and a gourmet restaurant that was once an old mill. It was 2009, the year when L’Aquila was hit by a devastating earthquake. The following year, thanks to his determination and tenacity, William Zonfa decided to open one of the two restaurants of Magione Papale in L’Aquila. His persistence was repaid in 2012 when he was awarded a Michelin star, the beginning of a long series of awards. In 2013, he is an emerging chef for Gambero Rosso and wins the “Best haute cuisine” award for the Touring Club Italia; in 2014 he is nominated ambassador of saffron in the world; in 2015 he is the “Restaurant of the year” for the Bibenda Guide. His cuisine is pure, based on authentic products of Abruzzo and characterized by great and careful research that combines tradition and innovation.
Today, after a long lockdown when the only way to be close to his customers was through social networks, William Zonfa has chosen to reopen his gourmet restaurant in complete safety, taking all the measures required to protect people’s health. We’ve asked him what he has left of this last time aside from the obvious and ordinary problems. “The life of a chef,” he told us, “is not in the house. During the pandemic emergency, on the contrary, I was forced to live the house, I had to enjoy the pleasure of cooking for myself, even though I love doing it for others”. The most important aspect at the basis of each chef’s work is the idea of sharing – new recipes are created to be shared with the customers at the table where conviviality is the main ingredient. Cooking is sharing and is also a way to take care of both the body and spirit and Zonfa is an artist at this. Tradition gives shape to the recipes of the chef who proudly presents all the Italian character of our cuisine and the deep bond with the territory. His research cuisine, simple only in appearance, skilfully combines the products and raw materials of Abruzzo with techniques and processes that reshape and simplify the most traditional recipes. A balanced dish, according to Zonfa, has to engage the mouth with taste and texture and have a good level of acidity to keep the palate clean. His recipes focus on ingredients coming from a maximum of 100 km from Pescara and Rome, and his dishes are minimal and essential, built on a few high-quality ingredients. Despite the hardships, Zonfa has kept alive his great passion and creativity that have always characterized his cooking style. His love for the local excellence and his talent in the processing of the ingredients make his recipes authentic and innovative creations that are the pride of the Magione Papale restaurant. Before leaving, we asked him to give us a recipe, “the restart recipe”, and he gave us a sweet and sunny gastronomic idea: a crème brûlé made with lemon and saffron – a PDO product from the Abruzzo region and a very versatile ingredient that is suitable for the preparation of sweet and savoury dishes – garnished with a salted wafer of black olives and thyme ice cream. This fresh and vernal recipe recalls optimism and positivity but is also a hymn to a tradition that enhances the nobility of red gold.
Now, all we have to do is enjoy this delight, as a wish for a new beginning.