I grew up in Texas, but my family is from Lombardy and Sardinia, so I’ve been going back and forth to Italy since I was a kid. I’ve always been attracted to the food and wine culture of Piedmont. With six growing seasons more or less instead of four, the region has incredible produce; the town of Alba is where white truffles originated. As you drive up and down the hills and mountains, you’re surrounded by green fields and vineyards, with fog often creeping in. When there’s a thunderstorm coming, you might even hear cannons early in the morning or late at night—the bursts of sound are thought to disperse the rain and protect the grapes. Because Piedmont has everything I could ask for in terms of food, I knew I had to cook there. I looked at a few restaurants, and I ate at a lot of them.
All’Enoteca stood out; I worked there in late 2014. It’s run by chef Davide Palluda, who became a mentor to me. What changed my life in Piedmont is its chefs’ dedication to detail. There’s tradition behind it: They’re respecting the diets and practices that have been built for hundreds of years. You can bring a contemporary eye, but what I learned from Davide—and from Piedmont as a whole—is that you have to know tradition before you can innovate. I run my own restaurant in New York now, but I go back to the region four times a year.
My thing has always been to stay away from the tourist spots and find the little gems. I get the best recommendations drinking around tables with friends, wine producers, and other chefs. This osteria does this; this trattoria does that. I made a huge list of all their picks and then I started eating at them. Here I’ll let you in on some of my favorite places to eat and drink in hopes you get as excited about Piedmont as I am. Classic dishes, good wine—it rarely gets better. —Stefano Secchi, chef, Rezdôra NYC
“If you’re going to explore the real Piedmont,” Secchi says, you’ll find yourself winding through roads “small enough that it can be hard to get two cars by at the same time.” (He’s happy to wait and let the Italians fly by.) That caution will be rewarded—from modern Piedmontese to nonna’s cooking, these are the places that keep Secchi coming back for more.
Canale, Cuneo, Piedmont: Ristorante all’Enoteca, di Davide PalludaPhotograph by Alberto Bernasconi
The food at the high-end All’Enoteca, where Secchi worked for a year, keeps getting better, he says. The way chef Davide Palluda plays with the line between classic and contemporary continues to impress him. A recent meal included vitello tonnato reimagined as a one-bite course: The Piedmontese sauce of tuna and capers was shaped into a peanut, served on a cracker instead of veal. “You’re expecting a peanut, but it’s tonnato sauce,” Secchi says. “It was a mind-blowing meal.”