Cesare Giaccone, the Langhe chef who conquered Robert De Niro, has passed away

May 6 2024, 18:06
He had retired long ago to dedicate himself to painting, another great passion of his after cooking. His son Filippo carries on his father's tradition at the Filippo Oste restaurant in Albaretto

He brought Langhe cuisine to Hollywood, or rather, he brought Hollywood to Langhe. Cesare Giaccone has been and will always remain a symbol of Piedmontese cuisine, loved universally by customers who became friends over the course of his nearly half-century-long career and by figures from the worlds of literature, entertainment, and cinema. With his proud and candid temperament, just like his iconic dishes, he exported and promoted the Langhe tradition like no one before him, far beyond regional borders. After a long illness, he passed away yesterday in his Albaretto, where he had recently devoted himself to his other great passion, painting. Never abandoning the kitchen, which he dedicated to his friends who came to visit him.

Cesare Giaccone has passed away

Giaccone was born on November 22, 1946, in Lequio Berria, when Albaretto Torre had not yet become a municipality. His father managed the "Locanda dei cacciatori," but it took him a while to realize that his path would be the same. He began working as a laborer and apprentice until one day he found himself preparing a bite for his employer by chance. His talent was noticed, and he was encouraged to change professions.

The roast kid loved by Robert De Niro

From then on, self-taught, he gained some experience in Valle d'Aosta and Turin before returning home and opening Cesare in Albaretto della Torre, which quickly became a reference point in the area where great wine names but also jet setters, Italian and international, met, from Gino Paoli to Giorgio Bocca, up to Robert De Niro himself. Legend has it that De Niro had to wait all six hours necessary for the preparation of the legendary roast kid. He had arrived too early, and Cesare reportedly exclaimed, "He may be Robert De Niro, but the kid doesn't cook by itself."

The Robin Hood of Langhe

At his tables, there was a competition to see who could spend the most. And Cesare adapted, but not to benefit himself. Oscillating between astronomical bills and popular prices, the latter for friends, his mission was "a form of revenge on behalf of Langhe and the humble people up there against the fat Langhe of wine and the arrogance of the enriched," as Luciano Bertello wrote about him, former president of the Regional Wine Shop of Roero, always a passionate scholar, promoter of Langhe and Roero traditions, and writer (his latest book, published by San Paolo in 2023, is called "Osterie della tradizione. Tra Langhe, Roero, Monferrato e Tortonese").

The "escapes" to Lombardy and Serralunga

In 1976, he moved to the province of Pavia, where Frate Eligio, known as Don Angelo Gelmini, had obtained the lease of Castello di Cozzo di Lomellina, which would become a community for drug addicts. Giaccone became the chef of the restaurant in the structure, also used for ceremonies and banquets, but five years later he returned home and simultaneously began to give voice to his passion for painting. In 2008, another turning point with the move to Serralunga d'Alba to the Fontanafredda estate, at Villa Contessa Rosa, where in a spectacular open kitchen, Molteni created a daily fixed menu based on inspiration and market. Then back home again, as we reported in the 2013 edition of the Ristoranti d'Italia guide:
"The formula is simple, the prices consistent, quality, imprint and style to which Cesare has always accustomed us. It's not easy to reach him, partly because Albaretto is already part of the magnificent Alta Langa, a bit secluded from the better-known routes, partly because the service is only for lunch and only from Monday to Thursday (except by reservation for groups). Once you arrive, you'll admire charming panoramas and visit the Barolo temples not far away. Now Cesare is in a beautiful villa, truly a home and a "shop." There are his hall and his veranda where he warmly welcomes and serves guests, the studio where he paints, the cellar with a good selection and nice research on smaller companies, the equipped kitchen where his famous dishes are born, and the fireplace.

Here, Cesare employs all his wisdom for the cooking of an unbeatable roast kid, but what about the fillet perfectly braised in bread as needed, tasty and tender, the Langa tomato risotto that tastes like grandma's cooking, and the savory bean and mushroom soup with tagliatelle? We also tasted the young cock with muscat vinegar, the rabbit salad on fruit sauce, the fried cod, and the legendary porcini mushrooms and peaches, a summary of freshness, color, and flavor. To conclude, a perfect bonet and the last sips of wine, which, except for important labels, are included in the 65 euros of the fixed but non-binding menu for the whole table composed of appetizers, three starters, two first courses and two second courses to choose from and dessert."

Retirement and Alberto Cirio's memory

At the dawn of his half-century career, he decided to retire, but his son Filippo, who had always accompanied him by taking care of the dining room, did not allow his father's path to end and continued in the profession. He has been doing so since 2018 in a restaurant four hundred meters away, in the grandmother's house renovated with grace and respect and transformed into a tavern where he offers Langhe classics according to his father's recipes, with obvious homage to the founder, such as the spit-roasted rabbit.

The memories of those who knew and frequented "Cesar ël Sarvanòt" ("the elf," in the dialect of Valmaira) are countless. Even the governor of the Piedmont region dedicated a thought to him posted on social media: "To him who was the first in Piedmont and one of the first in Italy to believe in the excellence of our traditional catering, in respect for agricultural products, nature, and seasons. With Cesare, you ate what he said because only he knew how to tell you what was best on that particular day. And people booked a year in advance to find a place at Cesare's, from all over Europe and then the world."

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