Mesmerizing cuisine steeped in history and art
Arno is the luxury travel division of Florencetown
Mesmerizing cuisine steeped in history and art
«We’ve made history, now let’s go have lunch» said Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, on April 26 1895, after approving the draft of the war declaration against Austria. And so he did, seated at his regular table at Ristorante del Cambio, right by the window, where he could see who walked in and out of the former parliament building, Palazzo Carignano.
Two years and countless battles later, that very document led to the freedom of the Italian states from foreign domination and to the unification of Italy. Meantime, Cavour and other celebrities of the time enjoyed succulent local delicacies such as asparagus with quail eggs, gran bollito misto and agnolotti pasta in the elegant atmosphere of Ristorante del Cambio.
Yes, the brilliant statesman who acted a fundamental role in the unification of Italy was, like many Piedmontese were and are, a great gourmand, as well as a member of a renowned noble family. He was a celebrity, hence, like all other personalities, dignitaries, and VIPs then and today, his favorite haunt in Turin was Ristorante del Cambio.
Founded in 1757, patronized ever since by a discerning well-to-do clientele comprised of local dignitaries, tycoons, intellectuals and the international jet set, and awarded with a Michelin star in 2016, Ristorante del Cambio is much more than a sophisticated restaurant frequented by posh clients. It is a cultural institution that lives on and thrives, a timeless temple of elegance, gentility, art and superb cuisine.
Ristorante del Cambio’s eventful history probably started back in 1711, but the earliest known documents related to it date back to the late 1750s, when the Prince of Carignano sells his land, and the theater it houses, to master builder Fontana. The area’s buildings are redesigned and reconstructed, and, as an official document recounts, orders for drinks and refreshments are to be carried out by the “Bottega del Caffè detta del Cambio”, namely the Del Cambio coffee shop.
Among these, a charming one apparently issued by the House of Savoia-Carignano on request of the Prince, that allows for an enlightening peek on the fashion and customs of the past: “Barley water, Porto wine, sorbets, biscuits, chocolate cups” it reads. And then again “selection of pastry, candied chestnuts and wine from Nice”.
Thanks to its strategic position, in the heart of the city and right next to the theater and Parliament, the small but highly refined café quickly becomes a renowned and dependable supplier for high-quality refreshments and sweet delicacies, but its golden-age as a meeting place is yet to come. The time finally comes in 1840, when the café’s far-sighted owner Pietro Cavallo is among the first in Turin to request, and obtain, permission to use gas lighting. He then sets off to enlarge and enhance the place by closing the café’s front arches in with glass panes, thus creating the alluring small “private-looking” salon later known as Sala Cavour, and adding the two main rooms that will henceforth serve as a restaurant.
And so Ristorante Del Cambio’s reputation soars, and the quaint little “Bottega del Caffè” turns into a sophisticated hot-spot frequented by local politicians, artists, writers, great lords and ladies, and, between 1821 and 1861, the countless ingenious men and women involved in the making of united Italy.
Year after year, decade after decade, Del Cambio’s handsome dining rooms host dignitaries, world-acclaimed artists and significant personalities. Among these, stars such as Puccini, Mozart, Verdi, D’Annunzio, actress Eleonora Duse, Maria Callas and Audrey Hepburn. And then again Balzac and Friedrich Nietzsche, artists of the Italian Futurist movement like Marinetti, and, obviously, members of the prominent Agnelli dynasty.
“Every torinese has something important to remember here” Gianni Agnelli once said.
And, we can add, every torinese cherishes the heritage Ristorante del Cambio embodies and represents, as local entrepreneur Michele Denegri proved buying the place in 2014, when the downfall in Turin’s economy in the 90s had left the former owners struggling with the rising costs of the restaurant’s exacting maintenance.
As the city’s economy embarked on a new Renaissance thanks to FIATs international ventures, and the Piedmontese-born Slow Food Movement set the scene for an enriching gastronomic rebirth, Denegri added luster and sparkle to Del Cambio.
On came the squad: skillful carpenters, savvy restorers, tapestry experts and painters got to work on the 1875 frescoes and furnishings in the main dining hall, while Izhar Patkin, the famed artist from Israel, painted 200 Sèvres platters.
Meanwhile, designer Martino Gamper custom-crafted round tables and red velvet chairs, and Michelangelo Pistoletto created outstanding mirrored surfaces in the other dining room. To offer patrons a variety of options a new café, Bar Cavour, was created at the top of a staircase and frescoes by Herrera, and the former Royal Pharmacy turned into a bistrot-pastry shop.
Together with the new glitz and new vitality, in came a new chef, a wonderfully gifted one. Internationally renowned for his sublime contemporary creations, Ristorante del Cambio’s executive chef Matteo Baronetto is the rising star of Italian haute cuisine.
His professional history sure speaks for him: pupil of Gualtiero Marchesi and sous chef of Carlo Cracco for over ten years, Baronetto definitely had more than one opportunity to master the tricks of contemporary Italian food, experiment and find his own, dazzling, personal style!
Stemming from what he himself calls “a rationalized improvisation” chef Baronetto’s cuisine blends Piedmontese tradition with inventive flair, creating a magnificent array of soul-satisfying dishes that daily delight patrons’ palates, and earned him his first Michelin star after only six months at Del Cambio.
To top it all off with a twist, Ristorante del Cambio’s kitchen premises offer an extraordinary experience with the Table du Chef, the Chef’s Table. Seating a maximum of four guests at once, this unique table provides a full view of the chef’s team at work, and is catered for personally by chef executive Matteo Baronetto. Throughout the evening, Baronetto liaises with his four special clients and cooks expressly for them, interpreting their tastes and preferences.
History and innovation, creativity and heritage, style, flavor, and a passion for beauty and elegance. Ristorante del Cambio’s vocation for excellence lives on, highlighted by top-notch cuisine and entrancing contemporary art.