Italy boasts 371 Michelin star restaurants, ranking third behind France and Japan. Sicily is just beginning to come into its own in this culinary realm with two 2* and fourteen 1* restaurants. I had the pleasure today of a five-course “Equilibrio” lunch at 1* Ristorante Coria in Caltagirone.
The hilly town of Caltagirone is perhaps a surprising home for a Michelin* restaurant. With fewer than 40,000 people, Caltagirone is situated an hour southwest of the booming Adriatic city of Catania (capitol of the province of Catania).
Caltagirone is best known as the center of Sicily’s ceramics industry, its quality rivaling the artistry of Tuscan pottery from Deruta. The local style of ceramics (known globally as maiolica) has been made in Caltagirone for more than 1,000 years. Although the city was devastated by the earthquake of 1693, and was rebuilt in the baroque style, the traditions of ceramic artistry has prevailed. Caltagirone is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
All that is to say that. unless you are passionate about ceramics, you will be making a pilgrimage to dine at Restaurant Coria. (For ceramics fans, read to the end of this post if you want to learn about a startling legend…)
Launched in 2008 by chefs Domenico Colonnetta and Francesco Patti, the restaurant draws from and reinterprets traditional Sicilian dishes from the “Bible of Sicilian Cooking” by Giuseppe Coria. It wasn’t long before they earned a Michelin star.
Chef Colonnetta comes from a family of chefs in Calabria. He trained at a hotel institute in Modica and had opportunities to cook in Rome and Milan before heading to Sicily. Native to Caltagirone, Chef Patti notes that his passion for cooking began when he was a young child playing in the kitchen. At the young age of 15, he completed training at a hotel institute, then went on to work at restaurants in Venice, Noto, and Modica. The two ambitious chefs met when both worked at Ciccio Sultano’s Duomo Ristorante in nearby Ragusa.
The dining menu is best understood as having four options: a three-course lunch, special for that day, or a 5/7/9 course dining extravaganza. While wine pairings are available for complete dining and wining relaxation, adventuresome guests may want to look at the extensive carte dei vini (wine menu). We took the experimental route, and as a result learned about about the ability of Etna wines made with the white Carricante grape to age for a long time—mostly to tame the grape’s somewhat wild flavors.
And now for the juicy story… There are actually four versions of the legend about the male and female, black and white, figurines that appear everywhere in southeastern Sicily.
All versions end with a beheading and putting the head on display on a balcony for all to see. The issue embedded within most of the legends is interracial relationships emerging as African immigrants began to arrive in Sicily. Here’s the array. Story #1 is that a husband stumbled upon his wife’s lover. Story #2 is that a wife stumbled upon her husband with a prostitute. Story #3 is that the woman was single, but did not know initially that her male lover was married. And story #4 is that both lovers were single and town officials beheaded both of them as a morality play. Pick the legend that suits you most, but know that the little statues are revered today.