The chef and his restaurant  August 2010

When food becomes theater

The culinary theater of Federico Tonetti, owner of Le Maschere in Sarsina, a small town in the Appennine Mountains, the birthplace of the Latin poet and playwright Plautus.

Chef Tonetti


Romagna with a touch of France

Chef Federico Tonetti choice of ingredients

Cappelletti Romagna-style with Sweet Onion, Foie Gras and Albana passita is just one of the items on the menu at Le Maschere in Sarsina. What does foie gras have to do with the traditional pasta of Romagna, one might ask? Not only is an example of the region’s creativity, but it is also a tribute to the land. Combining an ingredient from a foreign cuisine with traditional products is certainly a creative, intercultural act. Contamination creates culture, especially in the case of Italian Cuisine. The Mediterranean has always been a place of cultural exchange. However, it is important that when you are showcasing the best of a culture or a period of time, that it is related to history. Foie gras, for example, used by the chef to stuff his cappelletti, is a typical French ingredient, but it comes from a Romagnola breed of goose, which is among the best in the world.

Ma. Vi.

“The kitchen is a stage and everyday is a new performance; our menu is like a script, like a good plot. Improvisation brings out character and heart,” says Federico Tonetti, chef of the osteria Le Maschere in Sarsina, a small town high in the hills near Cesena, famous for being the birthplace of Plautus, a Latin poet and playwright.

Every July and August, this corner of the Apennines Mountains comes alive with the Plautus Festival. It is a time when theater runs through everyone’s veins, including the ones of this fascinating chef who prefers to be called a “host.” Federico Tonetti is a passionate person with a free spirit who adds to the local culture everyday with his food, “gastro-theatrical” representations of history, art, creativity and fresh air which surrounds him.

The interior of the restaurant “Le Maschere” in Sarsina

“In my job, creativity requires understanding ingredients and the chemical reactions that occur with different cooking methods. This knowledge is the base of everything. Once you know the elements, you can combine and showcase them.” Like in Plautus’ comedies where the unweaving of the plot is based on ”putting things back in their place,” in the kitchen at Le Maschere the success of a dish is based on the passage from research to harmony.

“A creative cook can make provocative dishes, but they must have some sort of logic, a cultural or territorial reference point.” For example, Tonetti has created “a dish that has been highly criticized, but once tasted has received only compliments. It is a Carpaccio of Castrated Bull, made with raw meat marinated in a cold brine with aromatic herbs and spices.” Although livestock is castrated on a daily basis in the Apennine Mountain, it is not easy to cook.

Tonetti explains that “he is the son of the tradition of craftsmen that were the backbone of the Italian Renaissance.” He sees his restaurant, listed in the top guide books, as “a small workshop where he tries to make things with knowledge and passion, valuing both the land and nature’s bounty.” It is not a business, but a place with a soul.

The chef and host Federico Tonetti on the job

Located under the porticos of Via Cesio Sabino, this small restaurant becomes a stage, night after night. There are 25 covers and a wine cellar with over 2,000 bottles. The restaurant has small tables, like those found in a French bistro, an open-kitchen and the walls are decorated with masks given to the chef by his loyal clients when they return from traveling abroad. “The collection is so remarkable that I had to put it all on display. The masks are the testimony to the many comedies of Plautus performed here in Sarsina. The performers of the theater companies are invited to write a note or leave a drawing on the walls.”

To learn more about this chef, look for the new Academia Barilla cookbook,

La cucina regionale italiana. I grandi cuochi. I loro segreti (Novara, Edizioni White Star, 2010) 50 euro. Also available in English.

Mariagrazia Villa

Osteria Le Maschere – Via Cesio Sabino, 33 – Sarsina (Forlì-Cesena) – tel.: 0547.95079

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“When food becomes theater”

  1. AJ says:

    I am really impressed by reading your ingrideints and the proper usage by considering health.
    great and best wishes !!!

    Chef Ajay

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