STONE DREAMS ON THE WATER
a conversation with G.P. Cremonini, owner of Ristorante Riviera
by Marla Norman, Publisher
The Riviera in Venice is a first-rate restaurant, with gorgeous views of San Giorgio Maggiore right across the bay, and spectacular evening sunsets. But even more memorable than the food and view is the owner, G.P. Cremonini. Most nights at the Riviera, G.P. is mingling with diners, making certain they’re enjoying his food and sharing stories. His philosophy on restaurants and food is refreshingly direct. And he has some useful tips for tourists in Venice…advice that could work in any number of situations come to think of it…
Tell us a little about your background as a musician and why you decided to change careers and buy a restaurant?
I began studying music here in Venice at the same time I was studying architecture at the University. Initially I was a self-taught musician then later I studied the Double Bass (or Upright bass) at the Conservatory.
But I always had, and actually still have, a kind of allergy to anything academic. So I left and began to play with dance bands — first in Italy, than on cruise ships and finally in France.
In Paris, I played with several pop, jazz and rock singers. I also studied classical double bass with the great Maestro, François Rabbath and even became a professor at the International Rabbath Institute. Eventually, however, I grew frustrated with show business and life in Paris. I decided, after 25 years away from Venice, to return.
I’ve always lived my passions. Music, food and cooking have always been passions for me. So, I decided that since I was changing my life around, why not change everything! That’s when I bought the Riviera.
What do you treasure most about living in Venice?
I treasure mornings. I live in Giudecca island, and every morning when I arrive on the dock facing the city, I have a wonderful and different surprise. The colors and light are never the same.
I also like that I have plenty of time to think. Venexia is a quiet city, maybe a little too quiet for people who need a lot of activity and entertainment — people who are not able to create their own diversions. But here, my relationship with the environment and my surroundings is direct. For example, if I have to go from one side of the city to the other, I have to do it physically. By that, I mean I need to walk. I can’t drive a car to get from place to place. So, I’m always in direct interaction with the city. If I have to buy a bottle of something, I probably won’t buy two, because then I’d have more to carry. All to say that values and behavior are a little different here.
And what did you miss the most when you were living away from Venice?
Anytime I’m away from Venice, I miss the wisdom the Ancients left in the stones. They created a stone dream on the water because they never forgot to respect nature and humanity. And they had common sense, something we seem to be missing more and more.
Your restaurant is lovely! We thought the food was beautifully prepared and enjoyed having the dishes brought to the table right off the stove before serving. Any interesting facts about the restaurant’s history?
Thank you. The Riviera is very much as I found it — with a character that, in my opinion, is quite charming. When I first bought it, I gave attention primarily to the kitchen, because a restaurant is, first of all, a kitchen. I spent there what little money I had. Now bit by bit, I’m fixing all the other things. I’m also trying to restore the restaurant as it was originally.
Recently, I really lucked out. I found the man who did the fabric work on the restaurant’s walls. He had the exact same fabric that had been used originally. So I have the same fabric, old…but new!
Another wonderful coincidence is that my current chef, Bruno Bognolo, worked at the Riviera as an assistant when he was young.
Could you comment on your “food philosophy.”
In my opinion eating is an extreme act: you take “something” that is on a plate before you and “put” it inside you. This “something” — if doesn’t kill you — then becomes a part of you. If you don’t make conscientious decisions regarding this “something” it means that you don’t respect yourself. Many people are more careful about the gasoline they put in their cars than about what they “put” in themselves. Terrible! If you’re preparing food for others, by the same token, you must equally respect this process.
Each person working here, in their own way, participates in this act — each one, with his own desires and passions and joys. But that’s not a secret. My “philosophy” is very simple really.
What do you think is quintessentially Venice? What should every tourist try to see?
To visitors in Venice, I say: Take your time. Don’t rush. Look around you. Breathe! Take time to read and learn about the buildings or landscapes in front of you. Be curious! Try to discover a little bit of the history of these stones.
And if you visit with a partner or spouse, please don’t try to explain to that person why something or other is so wonderful. Venexia is a Person, that will have a distinct relationship with each one of us. So let your partner have a chance to live this exclusive moment near you. But don’t create, unintentionally, a three-way relationship. It could be dangerous!
More great restaurants in Venice
A Beccafico Ristorante
Campo Santo Stefano
San Marco 2801
Pasta, meat and seafood
Calle del Pestrin 3866
Calle del Tintor at Ponte de Megio
La Zucca (translates “The Pumpkin”) specializes in vegetables dishes, but serves a number of meat dishes as well — at very palatable prices!
Osteria Da Fiore
Calle del Scaleter
A top dining spot, especially known for scampi risotto.
Osteria lle Testiere
Campo Santa Maria Formosa
Casual restaurant serving good seafood and pasta
Trattoria da Arturo
Calle Degli Assassini 365
For meat-lovers. Also has heavenly tiramisu.
Piazza San Marco
Venice’s oldest café, founded in 1720. This glittering establishment has been patronized by the likes of Wagner, Goethe, Lord Byron, Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens. Casanova was a frequent visitor as well — perhaps because the Florian was the only restaurant to serve women in the 18th Century. Expect prices to reflect the grand history of the café.
Coffee & Pastry
Calle de San Pantalon
Cantione giá Schiavi
One of the best wine cellars in the city, located opposite the last gondola repair shop in Venice.