In a city full of cooking schools, restaurants and event spaces, the newest opening in Florence is a place that can’t be pigeonholed: it’s a bit of all three, and a bit more than that. Tucked away on a side street off via dei Serragli, The Food Studio is the creation of two young men, Paolo Dellafiore and chef Giorgio Pinto. The newly renovated space consists of a front room and a large open room that gives onto an open kitchen divided only by glass. A combination of antiques and custom modern furniture alongside homey accessories make it feel pretty much like home… only bigger.
Faced with the problem of entertaining friends, colleagues and family for my husband’s fortieth birthday, I knew I couldn’t manage it in my own home, given that the living/dining room is at best 40 square meters. With an invite list of 50 people, we turned to Paolo and Giorgio to design a menu and help us plan what turned out to be a most excellent party.
We have a discerning group of friends, and an even more culinarily sophisticated extended family, so we knew that food had to be the main feature of this party. Having looked around at various options for an “aperitivo”, I really wanted to get away from the typical Tuscan fare on offer. I presented Paolo with the challenge of coming up with something more “fusion”.
His menu reflects two sides of their business. One one hand, they have Benedetta Vitali, ex-wife of chef Picchi of Cibreo fame, as their artistic director, who helped them develop a menu and their own style, and who teaches regular cooking courses on site. On the other, they are developing collaborations with numerous outside chefs. “I like to think of The Food Studio as a meeting point for chefs and their ideas,” Paolo tells me. For our fusion menu, he contacted Fujiyoshi Mikika, a Japanese woman who owns a store, Ajisai Japanese Quality, just down the street. Together, they developed a menu that harmoniously mixed Tuscan and Japanese foods of the type you might cook at home (if you had a lot of time).
On the topic of collaboration, Paolo explains: “Our idea is to build a network of Italian and international chefs that will work along side our staff. Our request is simple, we want them to cook what they would cook at home in their home region or country. You would be surprised of how many different culinary cultures are present in Florence but are not available to the public. The Food Studio wants to be the place where these cultures can meet and express themselves, for the joy of our clients.” Their plan is to offer monthly themed dinners that you can sign up for on their website. A meal with a group of new friends, with the theme being either an ingredient or an ethnic cuisine: “Sometimes seasonal ingredients such as truffle or artichokes will be the stars, in other occasions we will offer the possibility to try authentic ethnic cuisine. The idea is to give locals a place where to try something different, in a town where foreign food is not developed as in other parts of Europe such as London for example.”
On the day of our party, I left work early to help set up the locale to my own taste. Paolo suggests what he knows works best, but leaves decorating and decisions up to you. I made 40 paper airplanes and hung them from the ceiling. We also set up a space in a little tiny loft area for the jazz band to play – later we were enchanted with the tunes of Florence-based Jazz and Eggs.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Mikika and Giorgio produced increasingly tempting dishes…
The guests arrived around 7pm and everyone was surprised at the professional and rather swanky party we’d created. Impeccable service, live music, and abundant food set the tone. The food was excellent and the space was very comfortable for the number of people we had: there was even room for many to sit down. What more could a hostess want?
I asked Paolo if he could share the recipe I liked best: Lasagna alla zucca. I tested this pumpkin dish at home and it’s quickly become a favourite that I can prepare for guests. I shall copy it out below.
The Food Studio
via dell’Ardiglione 39/r, Firenze
Tel: +39 333 814 3000
Photos by Marco Badiani
Lasagna alla zucca recipe
- one pack fresh lasagna sheets
- 500g pumpkin (best if of the “Mantovana” kind, they are smaller and more tasty)
- 80g butter
- 80g white flour
- 500ml milk
- 150g smoked scamorza cheese, chopped into small cubes
- 300g chopped champignon mushrooms
- 50g grated parmesan cheese
1) Cut up the pumpkin in large pieces and cook in preheated oven at 200C for 20-30 minutes or until soft, check with a fork. Remove the skin from the pumpkin and mash it up with a fork. (Optional: Set aside a small amount in chunks that will add texture later.)
2) In an oven tray place chopped mushrooms with salt, pepper, thyme and a drizzle of olive oil, cook in oven for 15-20 minutes at 200C.
3) While vegetables are cooking in the oven, prepare béchamel by melting the butter, adding flour and keep mixing making sure lumps don’t form. Add milk, (keep mixing) until dense.
4) Combine pumpkin mash with béchamel and blend into a cream
5) Briefly boil the lasagna in salted water and leave them to cool on a clean cloth, without overlapping them to avoid sticking.
6) In a lasagna dish, layer as follows: drizzle of oil, pasta to cover the bottom, then a layer of the pumpkin mix, a sprinkle and mushrooms and chopped scamorza cheese. Repeat until you create a couple of layers, the last layer must be the mix and add grated parmesan instead of scamorza.
Cook in oven at 180C for approximately 30 minutes or until golden on top. Serves 6/8