Vite, a restaurant set in the hills of Rimini in Emilia Romagna, was awarded a Michelin “Green Star” for its sustainable gastronomy. The kitchen brigade (as they call themselves) under the helm of Neapolitan Chef Davide Pontoriere was bursting with pride.
“This milestone is the result of great and passionate teamwork,” says Arianna Merlo, the restaurant manager and a former substance abuser.
“When the news of the star arrived, my boys all seemed crazy about their jobs. I could see it in their faces, in their eyes,” said Chef Pontoriere in an interview with the Italian news outlet, il Resto del Carlino.
But this accomplishment is even more remarkable than it appears on face. Vite is one of the training arms of San Patrignano, a therapeutic community designed to assist individuals with serious substance use disorders.
The San Patrignano Community
San Patrignano, located in the small village of Coriano (in the province of Rimini, in the Emilia Romagna region) was founded by wealthy entrepreneur Vincenzo Muccioli almost 45 years ago. (Even after Muccioli’s death in 1995, his methods have been mired in controversy).
But since its inception, the ambitious goal of the San Patrignano community (sometimes called SanPa) has been to support individuals with substance use disorders, which tend to co-occur with mental illnesses, criminal justice system involvement, loss of personal supports, and unemployment.
It is the largest program of its type in Europe, having served an estimated 26,000 individuals.
Based on a psychotherapeutic rather than psychopharmacological model, the holistic program is individualized for each participant based on their respective needs. Clients can stay at San Patrignano for as long as three or four years, far longer than most other recovery programs.
Participation is free of charge to clients and their families, funded primarily through the National Health Service, the profits of the therapeutic work programs, and voluntary contributions so ability to pay isn’t a barrier.
One of the major premises of the program is that training and increased responsibility are integral to growth. According to the San Patrignano website: “Learning a profession is the best possible way…to grow in self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.”
Simultaneously, the program allows for clients to pursue academic goals and complete their education, and encourages strengthened ties to family and friends, whenever possible.
The Sustainable Restaurant with a Mission
Vite, an elegant two-story restaurant with an outdoor terrace, is surrounded by vineyards and pastures and is only a few kilometers from the Adriatic.
The food supply chain is extremely short and local: Almost all the products that are used in the kitchen come from the surrounding territory. This is a real asset because the Emilia Romagna region is considered to have some of the best foods in all of Italy.
The menu reinvents traditional ingredients and recipes in a contemporary style. Meats and cheeses come from San Patrignano’s own farms, where animals are raised ethically in large spaces with close attention to their welfare, from feeding to cleaning.
The restaurant’s highly rated wines are produced on San Patrignano’s gently sloping vineyards, 2000 meters above sea level, that cover some 100 hectares on the property. The wines—red, white and sparkling—are the beneficiaries of the microclimate with rich clay and limestone soils.
San Patrignano also has its own bakery that produces sweet and savory products, without preservatives, from biscuits to breadsticks.
Vite has been in operation since 2008. According to the Michelin Guide, Green Stars are awarded on a number of bases, including the quality of raw food production, respect for labor and local producers, waste management, efficient use of energy resources, and sustainable training of young people.
Worth a detour
“We are not afraid to tell our past, even with our customers. On the contrary, they listen to us, respect us and encourage us,” manager Merlo told the il Resto del Carlino reporter.
Ristorante Vite is only 15 minutes from the city of Rimini, the famous beach resort on the Adriatic that inspired Federico Fellini. Tripadvisor reviews of the food, service and countryside setting of Vite are glowing.
Diners also feel good about making a small contribution to the lives of the team—who work in the kitchen, front of the house, and fields—as they move towards recovery and productive employment.