At just 25, Marco Mengoni of Opera22 is one of Italy’s top 40 emerging chefs. Not only is he responsible for constantly reinventing flavours in order to satisfy his customers, he’s also at the head of a teaching kitchen with an important social function.
Opera 22 started as a project of a local charity, the Santa Rita Foundation, which assists disabled and disadvantaged youth in the Prato area. But it has gone far beyond its initial mission to become a notable restaurant in its own right, with professional staff, a forward-thinking chef and a contemporary menu.
‘I cook in the era of 2.0, the Internet, social media, the crisis, and the concept of “contemporary at all costs.” That’s why mine is a truly contemporary kitchen,’ Mengoni says. ‘Being a chef now doesn’t mean excluding the fun part of haute cuisine, but rather the challenge is to use one’s technical abilities to create truly great dishes out of lesser-known primary ingredients.’
Speaking of crisis-friendly prices, the restaurant recently launched a delicious 5 euro lunch menu, which includes the Hot Dog 22: a handmade sausage by Prato’s historic Macelleria e Salumificio Mannori, served on homemade bread with a side of sautéed vegetables and pinzimonio. At night, Opera22 offers themed seven-course contemporary tasting dinners called Tuscan Tapas for just 25 euros. While attending a fish-themed evening, we found that the offering reflects careful research into textures and flavours, memorable and difficult to reproduce at home.
Mengoni’s cuisine also reflects certain aspects of being Pratese today. Traditional Pratese dishes, like sedani alla pratese, are reinterpreted, taking into account contemporary influences in Prato, especially Chinese and Oriental ones, creating a kind of Tuscan fusion cuisine that appeals to the modern palate. This spring, for example, Mengoni launched noodles di ribollita, which looks like ramen, but has the flavours of the famous traditional Tuscan dish.
Worth a trip to Prato just for a special dinner. The lunch is a must if you’re working up an appetite by visiting the city’s museums, shops and historical sites. See pages 16 and 17 for a list of top 10 things to do in Prato… we’d make Opera22 number 11!
Via Pomeria 64, Prato
Tel. 0574/606812, 366/1799766,