BIELMONTE, Italy — Leave formality out the door once you enter the Bucaneve hotel and restaurant.
New chef Giacomo Gallina comes to shake hands from the kitchen with a big smile and Anna Zegna, president of Fondazione Zegna, warmly talks about hospitality and conviviality. In contrast with the gleaming snow outside, the wooden planks and coffered ceilings, the big fireplace in the restaurant, the upholstery and curtains in soft Ermenegildo Zegna fabrics contribute to the welcome.
Gallina’s arrival at Bucaneve in December marks a new chapter for the resort, which was built in 1963 and designed by architect Luigi Vietti, who masterminded the luxurious Porto Cervo village on the Emerald Coast of Sardinia. Bucaneve is located in Bielmonte, a 90-minute drive from Milan, and is part of the Oasi Zegna, which was created starting in the Thirties by Ermenegildo Zegna, founder of the namesake luxury men’s wear group and is near its headquarters in Trivero. Surrounded by rhododendrons and half a million pine trees planted by Zegna at the Oasi, with views of the Alps, from the Monviso pyramid-shaped mountain to the Monte Rosa massif, Bucaneve is perched 1,500 meters above the sea overlooking the Po Valley.
Gallina, a student of the late Milanese chef Gualtiero Marchesi, hails from this area, but he has traveled globally, setting up Bice restaurants in Asia and America, opening the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, working at the Grand Hotel in Rome and Florence, and at Dolce & Gabbana’s Gold restaurant, as well as The Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. Most recently he was in Dubai and Anna Zegna drew the chef to Bucaneve with a specific project in mind that is more than culinary.
“We met through a common friend thanks to our relationship with [recovery community] San Patrignano and we’d like Bucaneve to become sort of a school of life, to help kids find a purpose,” said Gallina, who contended that Italy’s schools of hotel management don’t really engage students. “Fifty percent of them leave before the end, 30 percent end up in menial jobs and 20 percent of them are not moved by this job. We want to give emotions, transmit a desire to become hosts and be hospitable, creating relationships with people.”
“There are the schools, but what is lacking is the opportunity for apprenticeship,” concurred Zegna. “We want to allow young people to train, to help them build their experience. We want to help them decide their future and find the enthusiasm to do it.”
Neither Zegna nor Gallina lacks such enthusiasm. The chef — shortly after a delicious lunch that included, among other dishes, an egg cooked for more than an hour at 145 degrees on a cheese fondue and sprinkled with truffle flakes; potato dumplings with a sauce made with local cheese, broth from lemon leaves and vanilla cream, and a pumpkin amuse-bouche — was already busy thinking about the next meal. And he confessed he had changed the entire lunch menu the night before as he tossed and turned in bed — much to the surprise and delight of Zegna, who was eager to experiment along with the chef.
“It’s all very natural, I like to talk about emotions and cook the ingredients that I see, depending on how I feel, and to create an experience and offer a smile,” said Gallina.
“Cooking to me is about conviviality. I like to participate in the preparation of food, I can do the hard work, but just don’t give me the responsibility [of the kitchen],” said Zegna with a laugh. “It’s nice to share and I think this is the spirit [at Bucaneve].”
This attitude is reflected in the menu’s prices. “We like to welcome everyone. There may be someone who wants four of the finest wine bottles, but it’s not true that you have to pay a lot to eat well,” she observed.
Speaking of all the talent searches and cooking competitions, Gallina conceded that, in a way, all these “big names” have drawn attention to the sector, but added: “It’s a tough job, and I am not happy about the alternate fortunes you see. There’s all this talk about the stars and often people who talk about them have never eaten at those restaurants. It’s sad, it’s like judging a painting or a movie without seeing them. I try to please whoever comes here, and I don’t seek the attention.”
While Bucaneve was created as a hotel, Zegna lately has helped give more visibility and autonomy to the restaurant, raising the bar and differentiating the menu depending on whether the guests come after a skiing session or a spa treatment at the in-house wellness center.
The 20 rooms are all different from each another and were renovated in 2014.
Zegna, who brings a vision and projects to the location, encourages “forest bathing,” walks at the nearby Bosco del Sorriso [which means “the woods of smiles”] through 37 acres of beech trees, which generate electromagnetic fields that benefit the planet. She also plans activities at the Rhododendron, a multifunctional room used for yoga workshops or team-building, courses of photography and nutrition.
“I would like to convey that Ermenegildo Zegna is not only a suit, it’s a mind-set, it’s the wool mill but it’s also Casa Zegna [the group’s cultural pole and archival center], Bucaneve, the Oasi. Zegna has always been in a relation with the territory. My grandfather created all this, but we must continue to make it alive, a place that people love. We must fuel the project, experiment, and — why not — also make mistakes. But always try, otherwise all this is an empty shell, a museum,” mused Zegna.