Growing up, Giancarla moved all around North and South America due to her father’s work, ultimately deciding to settle down in Miami to be close to her parents who had retired in Anguilla. She opened the first organic restaurant in the eastern United States. Her passion for organic food began when she realized that she needed to feed her children differently. She set out on a quest all around South Florida in search of organic producers. Establishing a strong relationship with them was especially important for her.
The culinary academy in Monteverdi
What brought you to Tuscany?
I met Michael Cioffi when he came to my restaurant in Miami, around 12 years ago. He used to come to Val d’Orcia often with a group of collegues, and one year he asked me to come along on the trip because he wanted to show me the little place he had discovered. The place was Castiglioncello del Trinoro. The town had a restaurant that had been long closed, Rosa di Trinoro. He eventually purchased it and began thinking of opening a restaurant, and that’s where I was to come in: he wanted me to guide him through the food and beverage aspect.
Monteverdi opened in 2011 but was quite different from what you see now. It used to have only five rooms and the two villas. Little by little he started buying the surrounding properties to transform them into hotel spaces – we expanded our spa, creating a beautiful indoor pool, a culinary academy where I can share my passion for this area with our guests. We also created a lounge area with an incredible terrace where guests can enjoy the aperitivo and the view. Currently we are undergoing our last expansion which involves a corporate center, larger spa, and regenerative clinic, three spectacular suites, and another restaurant concept.
Whichever direction you look in there is food growing, and we have added a vegetable garden outside the culinary academy and grow the lots of our produce in Michael’s house near La Foce.
We have developed a growing program between our gardens and Michael’s property. I have also been working with an interesting botanist, Caterina Cardia, who knows the name of every plant that grows in the area. Her passion and knowledge have been so inspiring to me and my team.
Foggy Val d'Orcia, image by Edward Riddell
What was the first impression you had when moving here?
I never get tired of these views, with an ever-changing landscape, I’m so lucky to be part of this place! I am used to executing my profession in a busy town, a highly competitive place, with crazy hours.
There is so much serenity here – although we get very busy – there is another level of peace. When coming to work I walk up the hill and as soon as I take in the views, everything is good. Miami became very inhospitable in the last years, due to the congestion of people that created a different feeling amongst Miamians, whereas here it’s very different. Smaller community.
The culinary academy's vegetable garden
Image by @ginevrabulgarini
You mentioned before that you love living here because we’re surrounded by food, how else has Val d’Orcia shaped your creative work?
I take great inspiration from the diversity of food found in the area, which pushes my creativity and that of my team to do as much as we can with the local ingredients. I used to be a painter so making the creative transition was easy, and I treat ingredients a bit like I treat colours – there is so much you can do. Colours come from three primary ones, and although we have more than three primary ingredients, limitations help push creativity. You discover how you can create an enormous variety of dishes from them – like with a colour wheel.
Today, diners have adopted, for many reasons, a variety of eating habits. I always believed in providing a seat at our table for everyone. This led me to pioneering the vegan, gluten-free, and raw food movement in South Florida. My goal was to offer these people something more – a sophisticated dish which was still delicious and exciting. Nowadays I’m working on making my own vegan cheeses, working with fermentation – which is very interesting.
The most important aspect of all of this for me is that a guest leaves our table with an appreciation for the experience and especially the care that goes into our food. Just as when I feed my family, I take great responsibility in the ingredients’ quality – making sure there are no pesticides, no additives, things our bodies do not need. It’s about offering pure local ingredients with creativity and innovation.
Do you have one product you love that you’ve discovered from this area?
That’s a difficult question! Each one is uniquely different. I would say olive oil is one of my favorites, because I use it in conventional and unconventional ways and because it has many uses outside the kitchen as well.
Il Poggione farm, image by Il Poggione
Do you have a favorite producer from the area?
I do. Massimiliano and his wife Abbey, from Tenuta il Poggione. They began farming because of their kids too! Before that, Massimiliano was doing a totally different profession, although his grandfather used to be a farmer. He always tells me that he wishes he had paid attention to what his grandpa was doing, he would have shortened the learning curve! They are so committed, and I admire them a lot for that- they taught me so much.
I’ve also learned a lot from Caterina, I find her so fascinating! She has taught me so much about autochthonous edible plants – she comes to Monteverdi once a year and holds a foraging seminar for my servers and chefs – I want everybody to learn as much as they can! Seeing edible plants, understanding what you can and cannot eat is a world so far away from my Miami days.
Giancarla oversees vegetable garden restorations
You’ve created the culinary academy, you’ve created the vegetable garden, and you say you don’t like standing still. So what’s your next project?
Throughout my life I have gotten to know many incredible people including culinarians – so I decided to start a Chef in residency program. We already have an artist in residency program which Michael began, inviting artists and musicians to spend time here and showcase their work – so why not open it to the culinary arts! I want to invite chefs to come here, to enjoy the things that I love so much, not just the landscapes, the beauty and the history, the people but the great ingredients Val d’Orcia has to offer – which someone passionate about food can really embrace.
Our first we will launch in the spring of 2022 with two amazing and chefs, Dominique Crenn and Nancy Silverton. I cannot wait to welcome them.
What’s your favorite place to visit when you’re not working?
I love going to the Caseificio Il Pìu, a cheese farm just down the hill from here, which I love visiting as they are so much fun! A beautiful, simple farm with 360° views of Val d’Orcia. When I visit, they take out some Sardinian wine – they’re from Sardinia – the salumi and cheese they make and we just sit there and eat these incredible foods and appreciate life. I love simple food – even though I create a wide range of different kinds of dishes – a good cheese, a great salumi, a good glass of wine make me happy. Eating something with the people that produced it is special. We have opened up the experience to our guests!
What is your favorite season here and why?
I love the fall because of the ingredients… I love mushrooms, pumpkins, chestnuts, the harvests, the olive oil, and the truffles, all great ingredients. It has always been my favorite, also because in Miami we only had two seasons: hot and hotter. So actually, experiencing fall is great.