The winner of the Michelin Chef Donna by Veuve Clicquot 2020 Award cooks pasta, lots of pasta, makes you eat with a spoon and rethinks Neapolitan cuisine (without ruining tradition). And all this happens in Quarto, on the outskirts of Naples
SOUTH is a state of mind and is a geographical place. It is the fatigue, the closure, the marginalization, the isolation, and on the contrary the opening to the other, the sense of hospitality, the joy of life and the love for cooking. SUD is the restaurant in Quarto, province of Naples, of Marianna Vitale, winner of the Michelin Chef Donna by Veuve Clicquot 2020 Award.
The southern question
Fourth is the normal normality of a southern town, a programmatic name chosen not by chance by the chef for her entrepreneurial and gastronomic adventure. And let's face it, Quarto, it's not a beauty, it's not a tourist destination even though it potentially could be. Everyone in the world could know it, but it is a foreign place even to the Campania region themselves. The air smells of sulfur because this is the center of the Phlegraean Fields, between Cuma and the Regional Archaeological Park: an area of immense natural and historical beauty. “In Quarto, however, we live in an eternal present made of concrete, a dormitory area that is more than quiet, immobile. We could be in the center of the Phlegraean Fields and instead we are on the outskirts of Naples, without connections and without infrastructures , explains Marianna Vitale.
"You are the most important person in QuartoA local shopkeeper once told her.
"SOUTH is the only thing that exists in Quarto, it's not that it took so long," Marianna replied. Unlike many other starred in Campania, from SOUTH they work mainly with Neapolitans, and this frankly is a guarantee of quality.
"My name is Marianna Vitale but friends call me Chef"
Born in 1980, Marianna Vitale was not born in Naples, she was born in Porta Capuana, in that historic center that in the Eighties was off-limits to the Neapolitans themselves, where the normality was that of news stories, where you quickly understand that for leave you have to work. And she with a beautiful summa cum laude degree in languages in the end remained. Self-taught, he opened SUD in 2009, Michelin star in 2012. SUD is not a restaurant inherited from the family, it is not one of those lucky cases that happen in life, it has never been a good restaurant, but a project born together with Pino Esposito, partner, patron, sommelier, then husband of Marianna and always the other half of the SOUTH sky. No romantic dream, but a project that could aspire to a Michelin star in two years, the time to understand if it could work. It worked.
Eating the South
In Marianna's kitchen there is no reinterpretation of a single ingredient or a family recipe. "Cooking in Naples is a mentality, so creativity means rethinking tradition". The tomato is investigated in its evolution, with a Neapolitan ragù served to make scarpetta in four different firings: zero, four, eight and twelve hours. The seafood salad becomes a soup that is enriched with seasonal vegetables and fruit. "Sea anemones were traditionally served fried as an appetizer in the Phlegraean area, but I discovered this later", explains Marianna speaking of Spaghetti with sea anemones, another SUD signature dish, actually born during an underwater dive in which he collects these "seafood spaghetti" and tries to cook them. "It is as if God had seen me for the first time," he says.
"Cooking in Naples is a mentality, so creativity means rethinking tradition"
Mixed pasta with tomato and mussels, in general a lot of dry pasta and some risotto (which were also the protagonists of a tasting menu dedicated to first courses) and the insistent use of spoon more than a fork, for a true experience of comfort food at the highest level. In the SOUTH there is a lot of fifth quarter "that it is not presented as recovered food, recycling or an ethical choice. Concepts that lower the level of the product . The Linguine with the fifth quarter of squid they are not made with waste products, but simply with a new ingredient that Marianna wants to share with you. Not to forget, the Cod cheesecake, which has remained on the menu from the first menus of SUD, «which is now very distant from other dishes and which I cannot make it evolve because it is useless to transform it. It is the word of mouth dish, removing it is a wrong to those who want it, even if the restaurant and I have changed . But how tradition must be known to be able to subvert it, the history and philosophy of a chef can also be understood from the path taken, and from the dishes of the past.
SOUTH is no longer what it used to be
«When we opened we did a perfect fine dining restaurant service, but it didn't represent us, it was a ritual. Over the years we have preferred to work in terms of ethics and savings, offering a more genuine and spontaneous hospitality, less obvious. We are not El Celler de Can Roca, we cannot do crazy things. I eliminated the overabundant pre-dessert, small pastries, which were often abandoned on the tables, the opulence in a contemporary key of things like the basket with a thousand different loaves. We make a loaf of homemade bread and cut it into slices, and only because there isn't a good enough baker here in Quarto. " The only goal is "to make you feel good. It has always been my desire, a life principle. It is the sense of welcome found in the SOUTH, it is part of the identity of the South ". In fact, the welcome is so genuine and sincere that it may seem normal for those who were born and lived there in the South, but which appears unique, special and often unexpected for those arriving from the far North. After the experience in Michel Bras's kitchen, they sowed a vegetable garden for aromatic herbs, for a couple of years: I don't have thirty interns who wake up at five, if I go to the port to wait for the boats I would have already lost half working day at the restaurant. I'd like to, but it's unreal, I have to run a company with two premises ". The other is called Angelina, a rotisserie on the road to the sea in Bacoli.
Women have a pragmatic approach to things, like a “good family man”. "With the reopening we had to eliminate the card", explains Marianna. "For us, the menu was essential, because we have a clientele mainly from Neapolitans, who return often or who are not yet ready for the idea of the tasting menu. But we had to streamline production to make the restaurant line and the modern diner line at the same time, Angelina . Now in the SOUTH you can choose between two surprise tasting menu cut on market availability and customer tastes: the South Menu, 7 courses for € 60, € 95 with matching wines, or the Marianna Vitale Menu, € 100 for 12 courses or € 145 with matching wines.
The wine list edited by Pino pays homage to Campania, to the wonderful wines of the Phlegraean Fields and Irpinia, but a small part is dedicated to the "immigrants to the south" of foreign origin. «No bells bubbles, we are not ready yet, Pino confesses to me. "We know how to do better." The tasting menu of first courses only is temporarily suspended. On the other hand, courses appeared possible only in a tasting menu, which can be eaten in a single bite, such as a spoonful of sea urchin, kombucha vinegar and Jamaica pepper, served before desserts. While waiting for better times to return, this is an opportunity to eat something unique.