Passion

The Cavallino restaurant, opposite the Ferrari factory gates, is reopening after an extensive renovation. Famed for hosting Enzo Ferrari on a daily basis, this is the story of how a former stable and farmhouse became intertwined in Prancing Horse folklore
Words – Kevin M Buckley

After a morning discussing aerodynamics with car designers or being updated by engineers on the latest Formula 1 engine tests, Enzo Ferrari would stroll out of those famous factory gates.

To go for lunch.
A creature of habit, he never went far, crossing the road to make his way from number 4, Via Abetone Inferiore, along to number 1. There he would ensconce himself in his favourite eating place, the Ristorante Cavallino. This meant it was 12.30. On the dot.

A former farmhouse and stable, the site was first used as a canteen for the Ferrari workforce, before opening to the public in 1950 as the Cavallino restaurant. The furnishings were simple and rustic, while the menu specialised in the dishes and ingredients that makes Emilia-Romagna such a powerhouse of Italian cuisine. Fast cars met slow food.

Over the years the restaurant became a culinary fixture, as much a part of Ferrari culture as Fiorano or Formula 1, while for Enzo it became his cucina personale – his personal kitchen, where he could eat his favourite food in a place where he felt at home.

A former farmhouse and stable, the Cavallino restaurant was simple and rustic, with high-backed wooden chairs at square tables, exposed wooden roof beams and whitewashed walls

Soon a saletta was set aside for Enzo's private use. This small room would become an inner sanctum where the Ferrari founder customarily seated himself with his back to the wall, facing the narrow entrance that was curtained for privacy.

On weekdays he would arrive with Ferrari managers and sometimes racing drivers. Translating mealtime chats was said to be frowned upon by the head of the table, so non-Italian guests – including Scuderia piloti – had to try to keep up with the conversation.

On Saturdays car talk was strictly frowned upon. Instead it was a time reserved by Enzo for a group known as gli amici di sabato – the Saturday friends. Lunches with these half-dozen trusted associates were dedicated to enjoying the traditional food, talking of family, and having animated discussions about life in general. The Italian way.

Enzo Ferrari (back corner) dines in the Cavallino in 1966 with his colleagues. This dinner was to give thanks to the extraordinary work of the team ahead of the trip to the 1000km of the Nürburgring.

Anti-clockwise from Enzo Ferrari:
Ing. Giancarlo Bussi (responsible for engine testing), Walter Salvarani (responsible for gearbox), Giulio Borsari – and partially hidden (head of the mechanics), Franco Gozzi (head of the press office)

The Cavallino also soon established itself as the perfect location for wining and dining the marque’s most well-known clients. As early as 1953 Italian film director Roberto Rossellini was a guest when he arrived in Maranello to personally choose the Ferrari 212 Inter Coupé – with coachwork by Pinin Farina – he bought for his wife, Swedish film star Ingrid Bergman.

From then on the modest saletta attracted visits from a roll call of famous names in racing and beyond, including the likes of Paul Newman, the Shah of Persia and Peter Sellers. The list of visitors doesn’t end there either…

‘Many famous people have come to the Cavallino: actors, sports champions, nobles and royalty,’ recounts Piero Ferrari, Vice Chairman of Ferrari. ‘A lot of Formula 1 history has been created here too. For instance, in 1981 Bernie Ecclestone and Jean-Marie Balestre came to lay the foundations for the so-called Formula 1 ‘Concorde Agreement’ that was to be signed that year in Paris on the Place de la Concorde.’

Clientele also included piloti past and present, with the likes of Niki Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell, and Michael Schumacher all regularly tussling with a menu that challenged their rigid athlete diets to the guilty limit.

As for Enzo, he was known in these parts as una buona forchetta – literally 'a good fork'. Meaning he liked to eat. And the Cavallino menu was replete with traditional dishes. Modena-born Enzo favoured tortelli in burro e salvia (tortelli in butter and sage), followed by risotto with parmesan cheese, from nearby Parma. In winter there would be bollito misto – a mixed broth of boiled meats.

A collaboration with chef Massimo Bottura and architect India Mahdavi has restored the trattoria's modernity and infused it with a new identity

As the years passed the restaurant's walls became more and more embellished, and for enthusiasts the place became a racing magnet, to visit not just for the excellent food. The interior decorations mushroomed to include original helmets from greats like Schumacher, and V12 engines from Ferrari road and road cars alike.

When the Ferrari founder celebrated his ninetieth birthday with a huge factory lunch, well over fifteen hundred past and present employees attended – and the Cavallino did the catering. The entire production line of the eight-cylinder engines was suspended for a whole day in order to allow it to be decked out to resemble the restaurant.

Following Enzo’s death in 1988 the private saletta was left intact but unused, in honour of its most revered buona forchetta.

The Cavallino restaurant presents Italian tradition from a contemporary rather than nostalgic perspective; here the Cotechino alla Rossini is crowned with a mineral truffle and a Modena black cherry sauce to sweeten the palate

Now, a new chapter in the story of the Cavallino is beginning, thanks to the collaboration between chef Massimo Bottura and architect India Mahdavi.

Massimo Bottura, born and raised in Modena, describes the reinvigorated Cavallino as ‘a new vision and a new way of bringing Modenese cuisine to life’. As such, the history and identity of the area is revisited in a contemporary style to bring out the best of the past in the flavours of the present and the future.

A new red façade adorns the old farmhouse building and inside India Mahdavi has played with the traditional decorative vocabulary of the Italian trattoria. The floor is covered with terracotta tiles, the walls are oak-panelled – and, of course, feature photographs, posters, souvenirs and memorabilia – but there is bespoke furniture and a pixelized interpretation of the Prancing House logo to create a unique identity for the restaurant.

Open now for bookings, the Ristorante Cavallino embraces a vision of hospitality to offer everyone the possibility to be part of the Ferrari universe, to breathe in the same atmosphere, and to celebrate the delights of an Italian way of life.