Respecting family traditions and the artistry of food preparation
In an era when dining establishments are routinely praised for their contemporary attributes and innovative approaches, it is rare to find one so deeply connected to its decades-long family heritage as Lenzi Tuscan Kitchen, on Soi Ruamruedee.
True to its name, this fine dining venue emphasises the much acclaimed cooking style of Italy’s Tuscany region, and it is very much the kitchen of owner Francesco Lenzi. The Pisa-born chef’s sterling local track record in running and establishing several popular venues during his nine years in Thailand led to the opening of his own kitchen about two years ago—a business venture that his parents, Mr. Alessandro Lenzi and Dr. Anna Renzetti, helped him in establishing.
Starting out in his pre-teens, Mr. Lenzi has been working the kitchen most of his life, first cooking for himself and those close to him. “I started about age 12,” he recalls. “It interested me right off. The first dish I made was something simple, pasta with pancetta—it was actually not so bad.”
“[Some years] later I would be cooking at home for my family and friends, and I saw that they were really enjoying it. I realized that when you cook something that’s good you can see the happiness on their faces, from their smile. Then I started to cook more often—especially pasta.”
Mr. Lenzi spent his formative years in and around Italy—in regions such as Valle d’Aosta, Tuscany, Sicily, Lazio, and Marche—gaining wide-ranging industry experience cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants, hotels and for high-end caterers.
“It was more than 6 years,” he says. “A very good experience learning different cooking styles, like fine dining restaurant versus casual, and different ways of prepping and acting in the kitchen.”
Much of the dining experience here derives from the richly-strung network of family, professional training and premium ingredient sourcing that gives the cooking its authentic, regionally-unique character and flavour.
As part of his training, Mr. Lenzi attended the elite Gambero Rosso, a culinary school which also publishes a respected magazine that lists the country’s top food and wine suppliers—a kind of ‘Michelin Guide’ of high-quality F&B sources. One listing is a more than 70 year-old company run by his relatives that supplies the restaurant’s supreme quality ham, sausages, cheeses and cured beef. So when he says “My idea is to focus on the Tuscan [style] cooking… and a family theme”, it’s not just marketing speak.
“My cousins started this cheese and ham farm in 1945. Everything there is hand-made, all artisanal,” reveals the chef, adding, “I grew up with these products.”
For example, the 4th-generation farmers who run the operation raise the cows and sheep using a seasonal grazing method known as transumanza, in which livestock are taken to lush highlands during the spring, where they are free to forage for grass and other native plants.
Besides being listed in the prestigious Gambero Rosso guide, the farm’s products are certified by advocates of ‘slow food’ cooking, a culinary movement much inclined towards such high quality, heritage-source foods.
“So you can understand how all our food is natural, [the result of] real [traditional Italian] life, and that we still [today] have this kind of product. This is a big part of the concept of my restaurant.”
Diners can sample these delicious and meticulously crafted flavours in the starter platter of ham, sausage, salami and exquisite cheeses served with a traditional bread basket—a favourite of many satisfied customers—or in the highly recommended pumpkin risotto dotted with buds of sausage.
The compact but well-kitted kitchen—fully visible through a pair of large-pane windows—buzzes with well organized chaos as no less than a dozen staff engage in a frenetic ballet amid flame spewing stove tops and cacophony shouted cook’s banter.
Inside a stone oven, hypnotically roiling flames consume a stack of imported wood, while beside it a char-grill, fired by oven-embers, is used for cooking the premium Australian meats and European seafood, allowing the chef to “get the feeling of the fire” and “infuse the ways of the past in my cooking.”
Among the delights coming off the grill are Tasmanian grass-fed lamb, sausage from the family farm and huge T-Bone steaks.
The cozy, custom-built interior exudes understated, rustic elegance in the style of Tuscan Arte Povera, accommodating up to 90 diners on two floors. The warm woodwork and aforementioned cooking fire viewed through glass partitions contribute to the intimate, sparkling ambience, along with thoughtful touches like decorative acoustic ceiling panels that render spirited conversation to a comfortable din.
A climate-controlled cellar houses a selection of top-label wines curated by Mr. Lenzi himself, who maintains close ties with some of Italy’s oldest and most respected vintners and suppliers.