By Romina Monaco

No restaurateur creates a fine dining experience like Fabrizia Levorato. After twenty-four successful years of catering to diplomats, celebrities and the aristocracy she exemplifies the rags-to-riches story while still remaining true to her humble origins.

I had the pleasure of meeting this inspiring woman and dining in her establishment while on my latest visit to Lake Maggiore in Italy. Situated by the water’s edge in Lese, Piedmont, Hostaria La Speranza looks like any other Italian restaurant - a stucco building with a tiled roof and terracotta pots lining the outside walls.

‘We’re not sure if you’ll like it’, said my cousin Marco as we walked up the steps to the entrance. His girlfriend, Barbara, let out a smirk. Were they genuinely concerned or was this going to be some kind of a joke?
Entering the foyer we followed our hostess, passing baroque-style rooms with heavy, eclectic furniture. Adorning the red walls were rich tapestries and an array of fine art. Crystal chandeliers glittered and shone soft light on exquisite china, rare collectables and antiques. Next to an enormous fireplace, at a table fit for a king, we sat in upholstered chairs while servers brought us cushioned footstools.

I thought myself a restaurant connoisseur. Several friends and acquaintances had owned and operated restaurants. Plus I had frequented so many throughout my travels and along with my sales experience at a restaurant promotions company, I was certain I’d exhausted every genre possible. Hadn’t I? But as I sat in wonder in one of the luxurious dining rooms of Hostaria La Speranza, I realized I’d been living in a box. I gazed around me, entranced. I had died and gone to an enchanting culinary palace in the sky!

‘You devil!’ I cried, slapping Marco’s arm. I faintly heard Barbara giggling beside me.

‘Now for the best part’, he said excitedly. ‘Fabrizia, the owner, makes everything herself. I mean everything…even the bread! And there’s no menu’. Restaurants void of menus intrigue me. Like a box of chocolates, the mystery and anticipation was exciting to me.

Within minutes a short, robust woman came to greet us. Wearing a tousled apron saturated in all sorts of sauces, hair disheveled and standing on end, she slid a pair of eyeglasses up her nose and breathlessly began to recite the evening meal.
She gave us two choices for our main. Barbara and I chose the *Ravioli di Fassone. Marco selected the *Risotto ai Mirtille & Parmigiano along with a bottle of 2011 Conti Ducco di Curtefranca. Nodding, the woman turned on her heels and marched into the kitchen. ‘That was Fabrizia’, Marco chuckled. In the midst of all this opulence, Fabrizia looked like she came out of a bygone Italy!

The antipasti came in an endless, steady stream. I sunk my teeth into creamy *Ricotta d’Alpeggio con Composta di Amarene, mouth watering *Mousse di Prosciutto Cotto “Granbiscotto” al Lampone , *Galleto al Sedano as well as many many more. Made in the Piedmont tradition, Fabrizia uses mostly local staples for her dishes.

Aromatic and delectable, this was the by far the best meal I’d had ever had…anywhere. And although my palate was more than satisfied, this rare experience wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t speak with Fabrizia personally. The culinary maestro was surprised by my interest and I found her genuine modesty endearing.
In search of greener pastures, Fabrizia traveled to the wealthy Lake District from Veneto when she was just a young girl. ‘It wasn’t easy. I was an orphan. I had no money, only determination and will.’ she explains.

First working at a pastry shop and then later apprenticing under the supervision of celebrated chef, Gualtiero Marchesi of Milan she mastered her craft, saving enough money to purchase the building now housing the restaurant. ‘It was decrepit and needed a lot of work. It was all I could afford at the time but I believed in what I was doing and I had a vision’. Waving her hand across the room she adds, ‘All that you see here is exactly what I envisioned’.

Fabrizia says she chose the name La Speranza, which in Italian means hope, so she would never lose faith that she could create a better life for herself. Besides the dogmatic belief in herself, her creativity and passion for fine cuisine along with the exceptional service she provides for her costumers is an another reason for her success.

Her roster of clients include the late Ted Kennedy, Silvio Berlusconi, Italian television icon Mike Bongiorno, Al fayed of Harrods, Carla Bruna, wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, countless nobility and many more. The locals who generally come to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and weddings are given the same royal treatment.
‘All my costumers are valuable to me. Without them I have nothing.’ she states.

She never takes a holiday. ‘Once I took an afternoon off and the staff called to tell me George Clooney wanted to come for lunch. When he heard I wasn’t here he didn’t bother booking. So I won’t do that again!’ she laughs. ‘Besides’ she adds, ‘I can’t imagine being anywhere else’. I asked her where she acquired such an extensive art collection. ‘From the artists themselves’ she smiles. ‘They are gifts’.

Ironically, Fabrizia gave me two gifts that evening. The first was a beautifully wrapped bottle of fine wine. The second was her recipe for success; combine all your talents with one part passion, another part faith and stir in the mix an unprecedented amount of determination… and voila'!

Cousin Marco and Barbara

Cousin Marco and Barbara
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