Nino Bergese: chef of kings and king of chefs

Mangiare da Re - Bergese's royal fare
Nino Bergese was born in 1904 in Saluzzo, a historic town in the province of Cuneo. A true Piedmontese heart, he nonetheless played the lead role in post WW II Genoese gourmet scene. As a young man of humble origins, Nino started working for affluent families: his repute as a chef grew in the Twenties, when he was sought after by entrepreneurs and aristocrats. In 1926, while he served for the Sant’Elia household, he created his amazing “torta fiorentina” (i.e. Florentine cake) – a masterpiece of shortcrust pastry, crème pâtissière, chocolate fondant and royal icing - on occasion of the 22th birthday of the heir to the Savoia throne, Umberto.
Decades later, the “chefs of kings and king of chefs” (a fitting definition by gastronome Luigi Veronelli) opened his restaurant in Genoa. La Santa, located in Vico Indoratori (a nice carruggio of the historical centre close to Piazza De Ferrari) soon became a gourmet must for the local bourgeoisie and captains of industry. Bergese’s risotto al fondo di cottura (bound with a sumptuous long-reduced beef glaze) was indeed addictive (I can provide first-hand evidence myself!). After achieving Michelin’s 2 stars in 1969, the chef ran the place until 1974, when his plans for retirements were undid by Gianluigi Morini, who coopted Nino at the San Domenico in Imola (always hyper starred and active).

A rich collection of his recipes features in “Mangiare da Re”, an evergreen blockbuster published by the Feltrinelli publishing company: its 13 sections span from the basics of cooking to the pièces de résistance of sauces and patisserie. A culinary galaxy – maybe a bit old-fashioned – which provides an indirect souvenir of bygone hard-working Genoa, crossroads of business and trades.

Luisa Puppo

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