Beginning with the lavish banquets of Ancient Rome, Italians have been honing the art of gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table”, for over 2000 years. We spoke with two women defining this tradition – caterer and event planner Serena Barbieri and wellness retreat host Larissa Giers – both of whom have found inspiration in their Italian upbringings for careers elevating the experience of dining.
Caterer and Event Planner
Over the course of her twenty year career, Serena Barbieri has become the go-to caterer and event planner for Italy’s most coveted dinners and parties, from Hermès, Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren to Helen Nonini and Piaget. Whether infusing Hermès’ signature orange into pasta dough or topping a risotto with an edible façade depicting Memphis co-founder Nathalie Du Pasquier’s mural for Assab One in Milan, Serena’s menus masterfully combine flavours, colours and textures to create an affinity between what the guests are viewing and what they are eating.
Born and raised in Milan, Serena’s Italian heritage was her education in building narratives between food, experience and aesthetics. “What I assimilated from my parents was the importance of the starting ingredient, the one from which the entire menu will be designed and the common thread between all the other components.” Whilst her mother instilled the importance of seasonality and preserving the natural flavours of raw ingredients, for her father, it was about a refined table – the art of which Serena calls the“appetiser” itself – and the improvements that could be made to a dish by simply serving it on a specific plate with perfectly ironed table linens, alongside freshly cut flowers from the garden.
Today, Serena’s events take these familial traditions to new heights. “Cooking is pure art” she says, "it is robust in transporting people to a thousand places.” To celebrate AMO’s collaboration with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation during Salone 2023, guests dined on black and white sesame wafers, veal rolls, Roman artichoke with corn crisps and Risotto alla Milanese. She notes: “It takes surgical organisation and a precise vision of the whole to be able to give a risotto the power to make you understand why that colour, that tablecloth, that room, and those flowers were chosen that evening.”
Kitchen Alchemy, Sound Journey and Retreat Host
After twenty-five years with Costume National and then as Creative Director of concept and lifestyle brand Merci la Mer, German-born Larissa Giers has turned to nature – running sound healing journeys, a nutritional kitchen and wellbeing retreats from her home in Northern Italy.
Larissa spent most of her life in Italy. Starting out in Puglia, her memories are of the traditional Pugliese dish Parmigiana simmering all day in the background, made from local and seasonal ingredients purchased at the market. It is this essence – of smells, conversation and the pleasure of sharing food – that has formed the basis for Larissa’s culinary approach to her wellbeing retreats. As she says: “Nothing gives me more joy than sourcing delicious ingredients, and have my guests sit down at a beautifully prepared table and loving the food.”
Sitting at the intersection of time-honoured traditions, holistic approaches and nutrition, Larissa’s food takes the Italian way a little further. Guided by the produce grown in her own vegetable garden, guests are served adaptations on Italian classics such as homemade focaccia with black cabbage pesto, ‘salty tarts’ filled with ricotta and white cabbage, and antipasti of dried tomatoes and caramelised onions. However, for Larissa, nourishment is not limited to the ingredients themselves. Her background in design has infused her healing experiences with a deep respect for the connection between physical and mental wellbeing and aesthetics. “Hospitality and the retreats we host are where we can bring all these worlds together,” she says. “We try and curate the smallest details and hopefully make all our participants feel comfortable and cared for – and inspire them to take these details with them to make changes to their daily lives.”
For more information about Larissa’s upcoming retreats visit https://www.larissagiers.com/