Returning to Dieci restaurant, Chef Gianfranco Chiarini and their autumn menu

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Exclusive news: In 2022 Dieci will host 4 special dinners with Michelin Star chefs, who will cook together with Chef Gianfranco Chiarini to present a unique 10-course menu, produced entirely with Bulgarian products. Learn more about the initiative in this article: A CONSTELLATION OF MICHELIN STAR CHEFS COMING TO BULGARIA TO COOK WITH BULGARIAN PRODUCTS

The aroma of warm bread with saffron welcomes us in the cozy dining room, while we step slowly over the threshold and by the stove, which is left heritage from the previous owners of the old school in Devino village. We are guests, for the second time, to Chef Gianfranco Chiarini and chef Anna Chiarini at their home in the village. Almost everyone has heard Dieci restaurant and the story of the two world-known chefs who chose to settle in a village with just 8 inhabitants in Northeast Bulgaria. Not only this, but to open a boutique restaurant, closely tied to the Bulgarian products and traditions.

Returning to Dieci is not less exciting and totally different than our firts visit in summer 2021, just weeks after the launch of the restaurant. Back then we were already feeling that this place is not to be just a trendy place to visit once. Dieci is a whole ecosystem which exists and changes depending on the seasons and the environment. And we are absolutely stunned to come back here in early February although the many obstacles on our road. Before we have ever started to tell you this story, we are already planning our next visit in the spring. But now let’s go back to our winter story.

The old school in Devino village, now Dieci restaurant
The old school in Devino village, now Dieci restaurant

Winter in Devino

Being one of the 10 residents of a small village in Northeastern Bulgaria is both romantic and challenging. Coming here as a guest is the same story and is not always physically possible.

In fact, our visit was planned for 30 November. But it was the first snow day in Bulgaria for the season and the tiny village found itself under a blanket of snow, without electricity and no accessible road. This lasted for the whole day. We are grateful to Chef Gianfranco for calling in the morning to warn us about the situation. Despite all of his efforts, the situation was not resolved on time and we could not visit Dieci on that day. We rescheduled the visit for January. Usually, the restaurant is closed in the winter but our hosts agreed to open it for us and some other guests who did not have the chance to visit earlier. Then a week before the visit it had to be postponed again, but this did not discourage us at all. The more we waited, the more excited we were about returning to Dieci.

Devino village and Dieci restaurant in the winter
Devino village and Dieci restaurant in the winter

Here we are, finally! The snow is still here and it is sunny but still very cold outside. Walking through the door of Dieci, we enter the magical world of culinary adventures, born from Italian creativity and Bulgarian products.

The products and the seasons

When you sit on the chair at the cosy home of the Chiarini family in front of the tidy table, nicely chatting with the hosts, you entirely forget about everything else. Charming minutes pass by in the room, enchanted by the smell of home-made bread with saffron from Yambol region. We are probably among the last guests tasting the autumn menu of Dieci before the spring takes over the elegant tables, the same was as greenery takes over the cold trees and streets in March.

The cosy dining room of the Chiarini family, Dieci boutique restaurant
The cosy dining room of the Chiarini family, Dieci boutique restaurant

The autumn menu of Dieci reflects the abundance of products and tastes in this season. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, seafood… Not to forget the truffles, completely natural and widely available in the woods near Devino village in the cold season. Not surprisingly, they have become a natural ingredient in almost every dish from the autumn menu. But, as chef Gianfranco explains. nature changes all the time. This is why the products, although seasonal, are also different in the beginning and the end of the season. The menu also reflects these changes. This day we are somewhere between the winter and the spring and it is time to begin our culinary journey.

Maria and the tasty bread with saffron, cinnamon and almonds
Maria and the tasty bread with saffron, cinnamon and almonds

Amuse bouche or pumpkin soup

The thought of hot soup and warm bread in a cool winter night would enchant everyone. Following his unique style, combining traditions and creativity, Chef Gianfranco started our culinary adventure with a warm soup. Well, a bit more than just a soup, of course. It was a bisque of pumpkin with a million more tastes, served with fresh white truffles from Razgrad region. The aromatic pumpkin and the soft texture of the truffles took us to the autumn forest, where nature slowly prepared for the winter but it is still cosy and warm.

Pumpkin soup at Dieci
Pumpkin soup at Dieci

Wine – the favourite companion of good food

Sometimes the protagonist is wine, sometimes it is food (as in this story). But the truth is that the experience is most real when they go together. Today our stunning 10-course menu of Chef Chiarini became even better thanks to the right wines to pair with. We have mentioned before (and you may have heard as well) that the restaurant is serving exclusively the wines of Villa Melnik. Anna Chiarini was very helpful and navigated us to the best pairings for the dinner.

Wine pairing is not available but each one of the wines in the menu can be served by the glass. Chef Anna Chiarini will gladly give you recommendations and directions so you can pick the best wine for your personality and taste. Following the advises of Anna Chiarini we decides to order three different wines by the glass. They were completely enough for the evening and paired perfectly with the menu.

The first wine we ordered, after a discussion between Maria, Andrey and Anna, was Villa Melnik Aplauz Viognier Sur Lie. This wine has fermented and left for 3 months over the lees in Bulgarian oak barrels. Vintage 2020.

Maria and her loving look at the pumpkin soup. The wine is Aplauz Viognier Sur Lie 2020 from Villa Melnik.
Maria and her loving look at the pumpkin soup. The wine is Aplauz Viognier Sur Lie 2020 from Villa Melnik.

Foie gras, jujube pulp and pure gold

This was honestly one of the most exciting dishes from the autumn menu. The elegant lollipop on a silver stick with agate caught our attention immediately. Moreover, the thought of foie gras always excites us in a unique way. Foie gras is probably one of the favourite products of chefs and food connoisseurs (including us). Chefs compete to present more and more interesting and creative foie gras dishes. And for us it is also a pleasure and magic to taste them.

This foie gras bonbon is a true jewel. Tender foie gras from Yambol region, mixed with jujube from Melnik and crispy bacon from nearby Antonovo. Sprinkled with edible gold powder, it melts in the mouth. Another evidence that coming here for a second time was totally worth.

Dieci Autumn Deluxe Bonbon - Foie gras, bacon, edible gold
Dieci Autumn Deluxe Bonbon – Foie gras, bacon, edible gold

Banitsa.. or a sort of

Banitsa is one of the favourite Bulgarian dishes of Anna Chiarini, she revealed during our first meeting last year. Today’s version, of course, is totally unrecognisable. But it makes us think how the same base products can turn into so many things. Today’s banitsa in inspired by our traditional pumpkin pastry – tikvenik. However, it features truffle roasted pumpkin mousse and local sheep cheese, aged for 75 days in an underground pit. The decoration on the top is made of fresh microgreens. The freshly ground pepper brings an irresistible spicy note. Of course, there is crispy bread crust – it is a banitsa, after all!

Banitsa?!?
Banitsa?!?
Banitsa with pumpkin, truffle, aged cheese and microgreens
Banitsa with pumpkin, truffle, aged cheese and microgreens
Banitsa with pumpkin, truffle, aged cheese and microgreens
Banitsa with pumpkin, truffle, aged cheese and microgreens

Here the cheese paired perfectly with the viognier, a lovely combination. Another good idea would probably be the Aplauz Chardonnay Sur Lie by Villa Melnik.

Forest and figs

It is time to enter the forest, to hide among the shadows of the trees, to smell the natural aromas of dry leaves, wild mushrooms and sometimes fruits. The “Forest Dish” in the menu took us exactly there. It was a champignon with chili honey butter and candied unripe figs. Th figs are from a special variety – Michurinska-10. It is amazing the enthusiasm of chefs Chiarini dig deep into Bulgarian traditions and products and play with them to turn them into something unusual, but still preserving and revealing their true character.

Portobello mushroom with honey chili butter and candied figs
Portobello mushroom with honey chili butter and candied figs

While discussing the fig varieties and the chilly peppers, our conversation takes another direction and we start speaking of the upcoming spring. In this priceless moment Chef Gianfranco reveals a few secrets from the upcoming spring menu which will be served from 1 March. He explained that the spring menu is always a challenge to chefs because there are no fresh products in the spring season. This is why the spring menu is probably the most complicated. Plants are still to grow and there is a long way to harvesting. So the spring menu usually demonstrates how the abundance of products in the autumn transforms during the winter. Fermented foods, dried foods, etc. – the products start to live another life, which we are eager to discover.

One of the many beautiful moments at Dieci restaurant
One of the many beautiful moments at Dieci restaurant

Gnocchi from Kozunak

Bulgarian Kozunak is a sweet bread, similar to Panettone in Italy and takes a lot of effort and time to make. For a long time we wondered why would anyone make kozunak and then keep processing it into gnocchi and cooking it like pasta with sauce. Well, if this someone is a chef with endless creativity from Italian origin, it happens. Both the spring and the autumns menus of Chef Gianfranco feature a pasta dish, as a tribute to his native Italian traditions, inspired by Bulgarian products. Today’s Kozunak pasta is served with deer ragout and mavrud/ruen wine reduction. We could not resist asking chef Gianfranco whether he did personally hunt the deer. The answer was positive.

Kozunak gnocchi with deer ragout
Kozunak gnocchi with deer ragout

For the Kozunak Gnocchi we stepped to the next wine – Aplauz Rose from Villa Melnik, a rose wine from Broadleaved Melnik and Mavrud varieties, vintage 2020. Villa Melnik wines are exclusively served at Dieci restaurant.  

The Kozunak Gnocchi paired perfectly with the rose wine
The Kozunak Gnocchi paired perfectly with the rose wine

Exotic risotto with a lot of mushrooms

Another reference to the Italian cuisine (which we love) is the next dish, presented as “Exotic course”. It is an amazing risotto with porcini mushrooms, truffles and a thousand other tastes. Why we were making weird sounds out of pleasure, Chef Gianfranco joined us in the dining room for a break in the menu – known as Intermezzo. It is something like the breaks in long opera and theatre performances.

Amazing risotto with mushrooms
Amazing risotto with mushrooms
The look saying "Do not touch, this is mine and I am going to eat it all!"
The look saying “Do not touch, this is mine and I am going to eat it all!”

The garage of wonders

From the presentations of the dishes and the stories of Chef Gianfranco we started to realize that what is on the table is just the top of a huge iceberg of culinary activities happening on the territory of the old school in Devino. All sorts of products are being grown, fermented, aged, put in the ground and then extracted. The experiments do not stop day and night, in every season. After mentioning his garage multiple times (but never in relation to his car), we started asking how large this garage is. Chef Gianfranco agreed to show it to us if we promise not to reveal what we have seen there. Ok, deal! The good news is that some of these secrets will come up very soon in the spring menu. For other we will have to wait a bit more.

During the break we learned another, bigger secret, that we will tell you very soon with the permission of Chef Gianfranco. If you follow the Facebook page of the restaurant, you may have read about the incredible Michelin nights at Dieci in July 2022. Then French chef Daniel Galmiche, who has earned a total of 4 Michelin stars to various restaurants, will cook together with Chef Gianfranco. But what we heard that night is that the visit of chef Galmiche is just the start of something bigger and really exciting. Follow our blog, we will reveal it soon.

A particle of what's happening in the garage
A particle of what’s happening in the garage

The products and menus of Dieci are planned and prepared months before reaching the table. It is stunning to see how the ingredients are being prepared and processed in various ways months ahead.

During the break Chef Gianfranco told us about some of his plans for Dieci for the upcoming years. In 2023 the place plans to go green, producing its own electricity. This will happen by installing solar panels and a windmill. At Dieci they also have a telescope. It is not that weird – the place is actually very good for astronomical observations because there are almost no distracting lights around.

Ribena Bouillabaisse

We were not very familiar with the bouillabaisse soup until we wrote this article. Earlier, we lived with the thought that we had recently the most amazing fish soup in our lives. With this soup started the second part of our winter culinary journey through Bulgarian products and Italian creativity at Dieci restaurant.

The soup is inspired by Bulgarian fish soups and the famous Provencal bouillabaisse. It is prepared with Bulgarian herbs and a huge dose of creativity. The original bouillabaisse comes from Provence. Once it was the fish the fishermen prepared from the catch they could not sell. Traditionally, the soup features at least three types of fish and seafood. This variation was with mussels from Kavarna, cuttlefish and squids from Greece and dehydrated Bulgarian root vegetables. Whatever we write here, it would never be enough to describe the taste and the feeling this soup left in us. And although all the dishes in the menu were exceptional, this one was really among the most memorable ones.

Bouillabaisse - the stunning fish soup
Bouillabaisse – the stunning fish soup

After the bouillabaisse it was time to change the wine again. For the final round we chose the Villa Melnik Rare Varieties collection, which we recommend to everyone to try. Our particular choice was Rare Varieties: Melnik Jubilee 1300, one amazing wine from owned vineyards of Villa Melnik, aged for 12 months in Bulgarian oak barrels.

Maria, enchanted by the aroma of the fish soup at Dieci restaurant
Maria, enchanted by the aroma of the fish soup at Dieci restaurant

Duck Magret, jujube butter and something more

The last two main courses triggered long discussions in our company of two couples, who had known each other from before but their meeting here was a total coincidence. The first of the two dishes was the duck magret, served with fermented jujube butter and caramelized truffles carrot gelee. Alcoholic in the nose, sweet in the mouth – the jujube butter was a great accent, loved by Andrey. Unexpected and memorable, as always.

Andrey, excited by the duck magret
Andrey, excited by the duck magret

Turkey, lardo and fennel veloute

As every other dish from the menu, this one also had a long story. The turkey fillet was first stuffed with spinach, tied and roasted in the oven. The broth was cooked for three days, until it turned into Demi-glace. The turkey was served with Bulgarian lardo, aged with fresh ground pepper. It was extremely delicate. Finally, the fennel veloute was the resreshing addition to this complex and stunning dish, which became Maria’s favourite.

Tender turkey fillet with lardo and fennel veloute at Dieci restaurant in Devino Bulgaria
Tender turkey fillet with lardo and fennel veloute at Dieci restaurant in Devino Bulgaria

A 3-course dessert

The dessert is never only one – this is what we found out during our first visit to Dieci. It felt like we were trying to prolong a bit more this unforgettable dinner, to experience this a bit longer and to star processing all of the tastes and emotions we had so far.

The first dessert is Pestil, or at least inspired by this forgotten Bulgarian dessert. Pestil is usually prepared by boiling plums with sugar and water, then cooling the mixture in a solid layer. It is different than the Turkish pestil, which is made from dried fruit pulp. So, today’s Pestil includes Mavrud pana cotta, plum tapenade and dzhanka rakia vanilla cream. Everything is sprinkled with dehydrated pomegranate flowers.

Pestil with panna cotta and rakia vanilla cream
Pestil with panna cotta and rakia vanilla cream
It is always a good time for Cheers during such a good dinner
It is always a good time for Cheers during such a good dinner

Then came the ice cream, from porcini. The previous time is was red pepper ice cream. Chef Gianfranco obviously likes vegetable ice creams and he is really good at them. The ice cream is served with persimmon carpacio and chocolate ganache with thyme.

Porcini ice cream
Porcini ice cream

At the end, for a truly memorable and mind-blowing final, comes the wonderful coffee with a praline. But what a praline! The one with smoked cheese filling, truffle and sprinkled with gold. We are not overreacting, everything was truly stunning.

Praline with smoked yellow cheese
Praline with smoked yellow cheese

After dinner

Dining at the Chiarini family house is not like going to a regular restaurant. They really welcome you to their house, show you their personal gifts collection from all over the world and even introduce you (if your wish) to their female dog Texas. Texas is an emotional girl who sometimes cannot hold her joy. She is a very kind and loved girl who personally works for finding the best truffles for the table. We are really grateful to her for the good job. We are also sure that she earns well from her hard work and gets a lot of love and freedom to run across the beautiful yard of the old school in Devino.

When the dinner finished, Chef Gianfranco and Anna joined us in the dining room and the conversation took multiple directions. We talked about the culture diversity, about their travels to India, about Bulgarian mentality. It is a great feeling to speak to such intelligent and knowledgeable people with rich life experience and professional background. We are happy and grateful that they share their time and energy with every single guest who arrives at Dieci.

The album photo with the hosts chef Gianfranco and Anna Chiarini
The album photo with the hosts chef Gianfranco and Anna Chiarini

We part late, of course. Not overeaten, nor hungry, we are full with emotions and joy from what happened this night. We are still to process and fully realise all we have been through. But do you know what is the best thing for us now? It is the fact that when you write something, you live it again. So if you wonder why we are writing so detailed articles – we do it for ourselves, too.

We say “See you” to Gianfranco and Anna because we definitely plan more visits in the coming months. The new season is approaching and the surprises at Dieci are yet to come.

Sunset over Devino village
Sunset over Devino village

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