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Italian chef creates base for award-winning Abu Dhabi restaurant…


(Menarfin– Khaleej Times) Posted on Fri Mar 31, 2023 1:33 PM

Last Updated: Friday, March 31, 2023 at 5:38pm

Most Abu Dhabi residents are familiar with Antonia, a rustic, casual and authentic Italian restaurant in Mamsha Al Saadiyat.

However, the stories behind its popular Roman-style square pizzas, fresh pasta and homemade ice cream are far more interesting and unique than you might think.

Founded by former head chef Simone Federici of Saadiyat Island resort Jumeirah Mare Mare, the secret to Antonia’s light, delicious and addictive pizzas is a sourdough base that Simone’s grandmother Antonia made more than 50 years ago material.

grandmother antonia

For decades, Simone’s family have lived and worked in the same idyllic countryside where sourdough has been passed down from generation to generation.

“Everyone in my family cooks, including the men,” the 29-year-old explained.

“I didn’t really discover my love for food until I was about 14. Then I went to culinary school, and by 17 I was working as a sous chef at a local fine dining restaurant.”

But the ambitious young chef was already dreaming of bigger and better things.

He quickly found a job at a luxury hotel in the Caribbean, and at 19 he became the first in his family to leave Italy to work abroad.

He finally settled in Abu Dhabi in 2017 after teaching himself to speak English and moving up the career ladder.

Finally, in September 2021, he opened Antonia, his dream project for many years.

“We brought back a little piece of my grandma’s sourdough from Italy and we’ve been growing and expanding it for the past three years. All of our pizzas get a little bit of the original ingredient, and the flavors mature and develop every year. It’s getting more complicated,” he continued.

simone’s great grandmother

“In fact, every dish was inspired by my grandma’s simple style of cooking. She was an amazing cook and she instilled in me my passion for Italian food. Unfortunately, she didn’t see the company grow or her name fame. But I’m sure she’ll be very happy and proud wherever she looks at us.”

Antonia takes a simple and quintessentially Italian approach to dining, stripping away all the elements of lavish fine dining typical of other Emirati restaurants and instead focusing on quality ingredients and quality dishes that speak volumes.

Simone adds: “Most of our recipes originate in Rome, but even there you’d be hard-pressed to find better cacio e pepe pasta than ours. And that’s not just my opinion either. Many tourists from Italy Tell me it’s the best they’ve ever tried.”

In just over a year, Antonia’s team has grown from 8 to 35 people, won four awards and established itself as the center of the Italian community in the UAE. A true family business, Simone’s wife leads the company’s marketing department and many of the chefs and team members have worked with him for five to seven years.

In a nod to his roots, the walls of the restaurant are covered with photographs of Simone’s family, including Antonia herself.

“This is just the beginning. We have big plans,” Simone said.

“I still remember when we first opened, I was in the kitchen, cutting pizza behind the counter, working the whole time. We’ve come a long way.”

Also read:

  • UAE: Repurpose meals, pack extra food; how residents waste less this month

  • Ramadan and cultural events, iftar and more: 12 ways to spend your weekend in the UAE


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