Gluten-free eats with chef Alex Sgrenzaroli at Risotteria Melotti

Gluten-free eats with chef Alex Sgrenzaroli at Risotteria Melotti

Alex Sgrenzaroli of Risotteria Melotti in Florence tells about his love for cooking and his approach to gluten-free food.

Wed 15 Feb 2023 12:09 PM

Opening in the summer of 2021, Risotteria Melotti is the newest 100 per cent gluten-free restaurant to come onto Florence’s culinary scene. It’s the perfect way to kick off this new column Chatting with Chefs, in which I have a heart-to-heart with chefs at the city’s many celiac-safe restaurants. Before you click away, the focus is not on celiac disease or even gluten-free cuisine. In fact, the goal is to help celiacs feel welcome, included and “normal” in the foodie conversations that are so prevalent in Tuscany. Above all, it’s interesting to learn about the careers of the talented chefs we have in our beautiful city.

Alex Sgrenzaroli, originally from Verona, got his professional start in the kitchen through his schooling, but recalled that his love for food and cooking has been brewing all his life. Like many traditional Italian families, memories created in the kitchen and at the dinner table were a cornerstone of his upbringing. He moved to London after graduating to work as a chef de partie in an Italian restaurant and proudly exclaimed, “I tried to learn English!”, but he agreed that spending every day around other Italians was not the best language-learning approach.

Alex Sgrenzaroli
Chef Alex Sgrenzaroli

Though it was a lovely experience, he chose to return to Italy not long after because he missed the sensation of home. As many can relate, the pandemic encouraged (read: forced) him to take a break, which is when he met the Melotti family and, as the world began to open up again, inspired his move to Rome to work in the Risotteria there. It wasn’t until 2022 that Alex moved to Florence and became the head chef of Risotteria Melotti Firenze. When I asked him if he has
any recommendations for celiacs visiting Florence, he admitted he might not be the best person to ask, but quickly added, “Well, come visit us!”

When asked what, if any, differences there are between working in a gluten-free kitchen compared to a “normal” kitchen he said, “Finding good, safe products. It’s a search. We have to be aware of what we can buy, what we can’t buy, and how to use those products.” Something that makes Risotteria Melotti stand out is that the family grows and harvests all the rice used in their restaurants, so they are certain that they are getting the best quality ingredients. This lends a whole new meaning to the concept of “farm to table”. In reference to the Melotti family, Alex comments, “They are people who know how to work hard and how to transmit the love they have for the rice and for telling the story of their family. They help clients understand what they’re eating, where it comes from and the origins of those products.”

Surprisingly, the Melotti family didn’t set out to open a restaurant for celiacs. It just so happens that risotto is a naturally gluten-free dish and they decided to go the extra mile to make sure their entire operation is gluten-free to allow celiacs to dine without stress. Alex stated that celiacs are actually a small percentage of their clientele as people just come for the delicious risotto regardless.

When asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t a chef, Alex responded, “I’ve never thought of a plan B, I can’t imagine myself outside of this world.” Finally, I wanted the inside scoop on his favorites from the menu and he said, “The classic, our Risotto Isolana, because it’s a dish I grew up with. Though ours is a bit different, those flavors make you feel connected to how you were raised.”

Whether you are a celiac or not, Risotteria Melotti is one for everyone to add to their Florence foodie bucket list. The menu is always evolving and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that isn’t delicious.

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