Italian Chef Creates Award-Winning Abu Dhabi Restaurant Based On His Grandma's 50-Year-Old Sourdough

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Fri 31 Mar 2023, 1:33 PM

Last updated: Fri 31 Mar 2023, 5:38 PM

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

However, the story behind its ever-popular, Roman-style square pizzas, fresh pastas and homemade gelato is far more interesting and unique than you might think.

Founded by Simone Federici, the former Head Chef of Mare Mare at Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort, the secret to Antonia's light, delicious and utterly addictive pizzas is a sourdough base made by Simone's nonna (grandma) Antonia more than 50 years ago.

Nonna Antonia

Simone's family have all lived and worked in the same idyllic rural village for decades, and the sourdough mixture was steadily passed down through the generations.

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

“I really discovered my love for food when I was around 14. I then went to culinary school, and by the time I was 17 I was already working as a sous chef in a local fine dining restaurant.”

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

He soon secured a job in a luxury hotel in the Caribbean, and at the age of just 19 he became the first person in his family to leave Italy and work abroad.

After teaching himself to speak English and moving even further up the career ladder, he eventually settled in Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Finally, in September 2021, he opened Antonia, a project he had been dreaming of for many years.

“We brought a small piece of my nonna's sourdough back from Italy to Abu Dhabi, and we've been adding to and expanding it for the last three years. A little bit of the original goes into all our pizzas, and the flavour matures and gets more complex with each year,” he continues.

Great grandmothers of Simone

“In fact, every dish is inspired by the simple cooking style of my nonna. She was an amazing cook, and she instilled in me my own passion for Italian cuisine. Unfortunately, she didn't get to see the company grow or her name become famous. But I'm sure she is feeling very happy and proud from wherever she is watching over us.”

Bringing an uncomplicated and typically Italian approach to dining, Antonia strips back all the lavish fine-dining elements that are often a feature of other UAE restaurants, and instead focuses on quality ingredients and premium dishes that speak for themselves.

Simone adds:“Most of our recipes originate from Rome, but even there you'd struggle to find a cacio e pepe pasta that's better than ours. That's not just my opinion either. Lots of visitors coming from Italy have told me it's the best one they've tried.”

In just over a year, Antonia has grown from a team of eight to 35, won four awards and established itself as somewhat of a hub for the UAE's Italian community. A true family business, Simone's wife leads the marketing arm of the company, while many of the chefs and team members have worked with him for five to seven years.

Acting as a moving tribute to his roots, the walls of the restaurant are covered with photos of Simone's family, including Antonia herself.

“This is just the start. We have big plans,” Simone states.

“I can still remember when we first opened and I was in the kitchen, cutting pizza behind the counter and working all hours. We have come a long way.”


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Khaleej Times

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