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“Food speaks to those who serve it and to those who prepare it, but the real joy is in sharing it,” says Sergio Dussin, who has become famous worldwide for being the chef of three popes. A native of Treviso, Italy, he is 65 years old, and has spent nearly 20 years at the Vatican in the kitchens of the pontiffs’ residence.
“Pope John Paul II loved asparagus, Pope Benedict XVI can’t say no to a slice of Sacher (a kind of Viennese chocolate cake, Ed.), and Pope Francis eats bread and good cheese or a pizza,” he says. “The most emotional meal? The lunch for 1,500 poor people.”
His story and that of his family was described by Nicoletta Masetto in the Italian publication Messenger of St. Anthony (not to be confused with the well-known American publication St. Anthony Messenger).
“Might you be available?”
Sergio Dussin and his wife Manuela have three children, two of whom are involved in the family business. He gets called to cook at the Vatican “every month, even every two weeks,” says the chef.
“When they call me, the ritual question is, ‘Might you be available?’ and my equally ritual answer is ‘yes.’ For a chef, every time it’s emotional and a privilege to be able to serve a pontiff. These are usually private lunches like one of Pope Francis with his staff at Santa Marta.”
The products he uses at the Vatican
The chef confesses that he doesn’t have “secrets” for his cuisine except for the fact that whenever possible he uses locally-sourced and, above all, seasonal products. They come directly from the hills of Veneto to the Vatican State: radicchio from Treviso, in full production in these winter months; celery from Rubbio; broccoli from Bassano. And more: potatoes from Rotzo; red onions and white asparagus from Bassano; cheeses from Grappa, Collina Veneta and Asiago; polenta from Marano…
Pope Francis’ ravioli
Dussin reveals some of the typical foods appreciated by the three popes, each with their own tastes and preferences:
“Francis is a foodie; he eats good pasta and beans, bread and sopressa or polenta from Marano and cheese. I’ve also prepared pizza for him on occasion. He’s unpredictable, that’s just how he is: he sticks to the ceremony until he sees someone. Then he stops to give them a hug, or to hold a child in his arms, or to get up and greet my staff. I’ve dedicated a dish to him on the menu of my restaurants: ‘Ravioli papa Francesco,’ a homemade pasta with Asiago cheese, Asiago speck and shavings of Collina Veneta cheese.”
John Paul II’s asparagus
As for the other two popes, “I met Pope Wojtyla when he was already sick and suffering, and he ate little and light. He loved, however, asparagus prepared in all sorts of ways. I’m very attached to Pope Benedict, a great Pope, a kind person. He, for example, doesn’t drink wine, but juice. He doesn’t eat mushrooms,” concludes Dussin “but what he never denies himself is a slice of Sacher cake.”