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food / travel

Why An Italian Restaurant Dumped Its Michelin Star

Saying that a starred rating in the Bible of fine dining actually turns off locals, Donatella restaurant in Oviglio has decided to give back the precious star.

Mauro Bellotti cooking, Raviolini and artichokes and the restaurant's terrace
Mauro Bellotti cooking, Raviolini and artichokes and the restaurant's terrace
Valentina Frezzato

OVIGLIO — There are those who reach for the stars … and those who decide to give them back. One of the best-known restaurants in the Piedmont region's Alessandria province is paying the price for being elite in a tiny town of just 1,200 residents.

Although fine dining has finally come back into favor after the economic crisis, and Michelin stars are the ultimate goal of every chef (not just on MasterChef), this restaurant has decided its coveted one-star rating is actually a disadvantage to attracting local customers. So it has removed it from both the wall and the menu, and is doing its best to hide all traces of this stamp of approval from the exclusive foodie guide.

The restaurant, Donatella, opened in 2004, winning the prestigious Michelin designation just four years later. "This was a well-thought-out choice, a painful one," co-owner Donatella Vogogna says of the decision to downplay the starred rating. She spent many months agonizing over the decision with her husband, co-owner and chef Mauro Bellotti. They wrote, erased, and finally rewrote and sent a letter to the Michelin Guide notifying the Bible of dining about it.

"We are giving back the star because it is not easy to keep it in an area like this, which has felt the economic crisis more than other places have," Vogogna explains. "This is Oviglio, not Milan. A Michelin star here is likely to divide the restaurant from the town. We risked no longer being a restaurant for our local customers."

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Inside Mauro Bellotti's restaurant — Photo: Ristorante Donatella

Though many customers have come from far and wide to dine at Donatella, Bellotti says, "If you're not cooking for those within three kilometers, what's the point?"

Later this month the restaurant will become Donatella Bistro, featuring a different menu, a revamped interior and an entirely new style. "We decided to change everything and become a transformed restaurant," Vogogna says. "Michelin stars require a service with high standards that was hard for people around here to adapt to. We are simple people, and people want to come here and eat with those who grew up around them. We will continue to do what we like. The star was a fantastic adventure, but the times have changed too much."

High-quality ingredients will remain on the menu, as will simple, regional fare. Vogogna says the menu will be lighter, with more attention to traditional dishes that will be reworked by the kitchen staff.

In the Alessandria province, there are — or, more accurately were — three restaurants included in the elite Michelin Guide: I Caffi, La Fermata and Donatella, all with one star. A new entry to the 2015 edition will be Ristorante La Gallina, led by chef Massimo Mentasti. In the broader Piedmont region, there are a total of five restaurants with two stars, the same as last year: Al Sorriso, Antica Corona Reale, Villa Crespi, Ristorante Piccolo Lago and Combal Zero. The Piazza Duomo di Alba is an exception, with three stars.

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