Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Garantito IGP: The True Story of Mattias, the Commendable Snow Cook

This time, Stefano Tesi speaks:

Regardless of the Michelin star (which does in any case mean something), his restaurant in Livigno is a rare bird in the stuffy gastronomic scene of the "Piccolo Tibet," where, alas, precooked pizzoccheri and tourist menus still reign supreme. A gastronomic story that plays out with courage, passion, and many stories.

His motto is, "I don't get older, but fatter." Even so, nothing about Mattias Peri (who, truth be told, is not at all sylph-like) is the least bit abominable, not even in a place that is seriously snow-bound: Livigno, at an elevation of more than 1800 meters, a town in the upper Valtellina subject to record-breaking cold (-42 C (-43.6 F), personally experienced in 1985) and record-breaking sales of duty-free goods.

Ah, the duty free goods: a boon and a bane for a village that, thanks to its being declared duty free, emerged from the quicksands of poverty, only to bog down in commerce.
And thus the problems of today, a sprawling shopping center buy & run tourism, and visitors who are undemanding at table, with the effects that this inevitably has upon restaurant quality.

A pity, because Livigno, in addition to boasting beautiful trails and 7 months of snow per year, has a long history and culture well worth getting to know.

And since no man is a prophet in his own land, especially in small towns, the story of Mattias and his wife Manuela is unsurprising. In 2001 they opened Chalet Mattias, the restaurant they had long desired and set their hopes on: The goal was to create, in the land of precooked pizzoccheri and 12-euro tourist menus, a Gourmet Restaurant. They succeeded (in 2009 the establishment became the third starred restaurant in the Province of Sondrio), but it wasn't easy. I can confirm this personally, having dined there several times over the years, noting with pleasure how much the restaurant improved, and how hard they worked, in a setting that had little interest in quality dining.

The Chalet Mattias (which also offers six beautiful double rooms, with breakfast, starting at 60 Euros per person), is located in a pretty baita at the outskirts of town. Just seven tables, and 35 seats, a cozy atmosphere with carved wood décor, cooking that is creative but not overdone, an excellent cellar (the wine list is on site), with a considerable selection of wines from the Valtellina, in addition to Italian and international wines (the low markups, in a tax-free area, are an invitation to buy!).

Among the many delights, the chef's greeting with shrimp tails wrapped in lard and topped with sesame seeds and balsamic vinegar, sciatt (a substantial, classic dish of the Valtellina: diced cheese battered and fried), elegantly tamed by a mustard-based vinaigrette, superb bull fillet cooked in the ashes, and crème brulèe with rhubarb and pine needles.

Manuaela oversees the tables with discrete aplomb, while the chef doesn't hesitate to emerge and ask, honestly, his guests's opinions. At the end of the evening, when things relax and the restaurant empties, it's worth hanging around for a few minutes more to enjoy a distillate and listen to Mattias tell stories of the beginning, when he would go all out to offer his neighbors new dishes, and they, quietly and stubbornly, demanded pasta with meat sauce.

The pricing is noteworthy too. The tasting menu is 48 Euros (excluding wines, which can also be had by the glass), and there is also a nicely thought out "course" option: 28 Euros for one course, 44 for two, 56 for three, and 66 for four.

Chalet Mattias
Via Canton 124, Livigno (SO)
Tel +39 0432 997 794


We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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