Diners are flocking to what could perhaps be termed the most exclusive restaurant in Italy - one located inside a top security prison, where the chefs and waiters are Mafiosi, robbers and murderers.
Serenaded by Bruno, a pianist doing life for murder, the clientele eat inside a deconsecrated chapel set behind the 60 ft-high walls, watch towers, searchlights and security cameras of the daunting 500-year-old Fortezza Medicea, at Volterra near Pisa.
Under the watchful eye of armed prison warders, a 20-strong team of chefs, kitchen hands and waiters prepares 120 covers for diners who have all undergone strict security checks. Tables are booked up weeks in advance.
The prison director, Maria Grazia Giampiccolo, said the inmates had developed a flair for their cooking: "I feel haute cuisine in a place like this prepares the inmates for when they are eventually released. The guests enjoy their meals and although the security seems at first very daunting and imposing, they get over it quite quickly and forget about the guards."
In the kitchen, Egidio, a burly 50-year-old from Taranto, in southern Italy, reigns over his team of six chefs like an Italian Gordon Ramsay. "The pasta is boiling over! More salt, less garlic! Keep stirring the pasta sauce!" he shouts.
Seventeen years into his sentence, he is thinking of going into the restaurant business when they finally let him out. "Like any Italian I take my food very, very seriously. I like to be sure the diners are satisfied and they don't just enjoy the food, but enjoy it with the same passion that I prepare it."
Diners professed themselves delighted. "When I heard about it I thought it sounded fun, so we booked a table and I have to say the food has been very good," said off-duty policeman Alessandra Ciabattini, 36.
"The fact that the dishes are prepared by murderers, armed robbers, Mafiosi or terrorists doesn't really bother me, though I might be worried if someone had been convicted of poisoning."
Sunday, May 20, 2007
From the Telegraph: