Fairweather publisher Eric Goodman hada chance to get the scoop from Gherardo Guarducci, the restaurateur behind Sant Ambroeus and Casa Lever, on growing up in Prato, Italy, building restaurants that embody La Dolce Vita, and Casa Lever’s $50 million Andy Warhol collection.
Eric Goodman: What is your earliest memory of incredible food?
Gherardo Guarducci: Eating fresh-caught anchovies and mackerel from fishermen who brought the catch to our home in Forte dei Marmi.
EG: What was it like growing up in Prato, Italy?
GG: Prato is five miles north of Florence and it distinguishes itself by having a very strong entrepreneurial spirit and culture—business and trade is in the air. Growing up here has inspired me to become more successful and challenge myself, setting goals to help better my career.
EG: What’s your favorite cuisine other than Italian?
GG: Hands down it is Japanese. There are many similarities between Japanese and Italian cuisine. First and foremost, the great respect for a rich tradition and the raw ingredients.
EG: Did you enjoy working in your family’s textile trading business? It appears that everyone that works at Sant Ambroeus seems like one big family. Have you applied any lessons from your own family business to creating this family-like environment in your restaurants?
GG: Prato’s textile industry is grounded on family values and spirit. Everyone knows which family owns which business and each comes with colorful qualities. It was always important to me to recreate the family environment at our restaurants. Work is always much more enjoy- able when surrounded by family.
EG: How and when did you know that you wanted to develop restaurants?
GG: Restaurants are the only venues I knowof that require one to be comfortable leading people, creating experiences that are unique to all the senses, and be willing to change quickly. One must also be savvy with finances, marketing, and management and have a very supple ego.
EG: Casa Lever is celebrating its fifth year. What makes Casa Lever so special?
GG: We set out to create one of the city’s best Italian restaurants in a world class ambiance of iconic art and architecture. I think we are there, but still working as hard on it as if it were 2009.
EG: Please tell us about the incredible Warhol collection.
GG: All the Andy Warhol portraits in Casa Lever are courtesy of private collections. We feel extremely lucky to have such a strong relationship with Aby Rosen and are thrilled he has chosen Casa Lever to display so many of his Warhol portraits. The Andy Warhol portraits at Casa Lever create a unique and distinctive atmosphere for diners. There are only a few places in the world where diners can enjoy a meal alongside an outstanding and significant art collection and we are pleased to have the opportunity to offer this exclusive experience to our guests. The collection is a great point of conversation for diners and it help draws a diverse crowd to the restaurant, including businessmen, politicians, fashion designers, artists, tourists, etc. Just a few months ago, Aby Rosen expanded his collection and was kind enough to display them at Casa Lever, expanding our collection from 19 to 32 painting valued at over $50 million. The collection now consists of such celebrated names as Alfred Hitchcock, Dolly Parton, Jerry Hall, and Giorgio Armani.
EG: Do you enjoy cooking?
GG: I have always had a passion for cooking, but I really enjoy grilling fish and meats.
EG: Where is your favorite place to go in NYC?
GG: Masa at Time Warner Center.
EG: What is your favorite dish that is served at one of your restaurants? What is your favorite dessert?
GG: The trennette al pesto at Casa Lever—our pesto and tomato sauce takes me back to my childhood. My favorite dessert is the Millefoglie.