Restaurant DIECI, Chef Gianfranco Chiarini and the most exciting food journey in Bulgaria

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Restaurant DIECI opened its doors in May 2021 in the small village of Devino, Targovishte region, Bulgaria. It represents the long-cooked dream of world-known chefs Gianfranco Chiarini and Anna Chiarini. 10 DIECI is certainly the most exciting culinary experience in Bulgaria at the moment and we are happy to include it in our section with unique culinary experiences “Dining with Diners Club”, which we maintain with the support of Diners Club Bulgaria.

We will start this story with the four of us - Maria, chef Gianfranco, chef Anna and Andrey. Because it will be a story of a culinary adventure in 10 DIECI restaurant, but we will be the main protagonists.
We will start this story with the four of us – Maria, chef Gianfranco, chef Anna and Andrey. Because it will be a story of a culinary adventure in 10 DIECI restaurant, but we will be the main participants.

Devino village

The road to Devino village in the wet June day looks like a green tunnel with the overhanging plum trees and other fruit trees from both sides of the road. It meanders by the hills of the Eastern Predbalkan mountains and despite we are not at a very high altitude (the highest point in the area is at around 500 m.), the view is like you are in the Rodope mountains, overlooking the numerous hills, scattered in the distance like spring flowes in a green meadow. The best view is from the yard of the old school in Devino. It looks like it was purposely built there, from where the whole beauty of the area reveals in front of your eyes.

Devino village and the Predbalkan
Devino village and the Predbalkan

It smells like a fresh wet forest. The rain has stopped an hour ago and the soil under our feet is still wet and soft. We stay in front of the school building, by the same wooden doors that once welcomed tens of curious pupils. Then we look at the large green yard, surrounded by poplars, plum trees and recently planted vines. Despite the place has changed a lot, here we still can learn a lot of things. About clean food, Bulgarian cuisine, hospitality and respect between people. The most amazing thing is that we learn these things from people who have the whole world in their backgrounds, who have spent all their lives travelling and discovering all continents, but have finally discovered the realisation of their dream in Bulgaria. A dream that has been cooking for years.

The old school building in Devino, now restaurant DIECI
The old school building in Devino, now restaurant DIECI

The world-known chefs Gianfranco Chiarini and Anna Chiarini who have cooked for the emir of Kuwait, presidents and royal families, these days are residents of Devino village. And this is not just a work project. Here is the place they have chosen to make their dream come true. Today it is called 10 DIECI Boutique Restaurant. It is not actually a restaurant but rather an invitation to their home, where they can host no more than 10 guests at a time, to present them an exceptional experience to remember for life.

Bulgaria and the dream that has been cooking for years

Maybe everyone asks the Chiarini family the same question: how and why did they choose Bulgaria to live and create this place. We asked them, too. The answer surprised us a little. But as often happens, the decision to do it was a string of the right things happening at the right times. They came to Bulgaria for the first time in 2015 for a culinary festival in the ski resort of Bansko. Later they decided to build a holiday home there. The Covid-19 pandemic found them in Bansko where they had to stay for a few months. And this led them to the idea to look for a historical property in another town or village, where to build their dream.

During their travels through Bulgaria they found the things they were looking for – serene nature, natural products, unspoiled by the modern technologies and genetic engineering, opportunity for life closer to nature. “Bulgaria reminds me of Italy 50 years ago”, said chef Gianfranco. Not that his native country is not wonderful now as well, but the globalisation has changed it a lot. In Bulgaria you can still find places like Devino, where the time goes by in another manner, food tastes differently, people are more relaxed and the whole community is always ready to give a hand.

Chef Gianfranco Chiarini in his kitchen at DIECI restaurant
Chef Gianfranco Chiarini in his kitchen at DIECI restaurant

The old school of Devino

We keep asking the hosts numerous questions although it’s been almost an hour since we arrived. Asking about their lives before and in Bulgaria, we did not expect to hear that they bought the old semi-destroyed building just an year ago. It is astonishing how in 8-9 months, including winter, they managed to return its full glory and turn it into an elegant and cozy place where every wall makes a nod to the past. The whole local community took part in the reconstruction of the building. Locals were happy to help in finding workers for the site. And as decades ago, the school united the village and brought to Devino, which has only 8 official inhabitants, new emotions and enthusiasm in life.

Nowadays chefs Gianfranco and Anna keep partnering with their neighbours and local producers for supplying products for the restaurant. Their vines and vegetable garden are still too young. But the neighbours are happy to help in the important task of supplying fresh natural products for the table in DIECI restaurant.

All fruits and vegetables come from the neighbouring gardens. The pork is Bulgarian as well. And the duck liver for the Foie Gras comes from the town of Yambol, southeastern Bulgaria. The fish and seafood come mainly from the rivers in Bulgaria and the Black sea, sometimes from the Aegean sea. Only the beef comes from the USA because they could not find a proper producer locally. The olive oil is Spanish. Another lovely foreign guest at the restaurant is the maple syrup from Wisconsin, USA, which has a very curious story. The producer is a US Army veteran in a wheelchair who personally takes care of the trees, together with his family. If you look deeper into the history of DIECI and the story of the place and the products, you will find out that underneath the perfectly polished dishes there are many stories, works and human emotions.

The cozy setting of DIECI restaurant
The cozy setting of DIECI restaurant

DIECI – a 10-course journey

Homemade beetroot bread with Dieci homemade butter

The aroma of freshly baked bread was all around the house when we arrived. The bread with beetroot was slightly wet, smelling of grain and earth. They served it in a clay pot under a lid, with butter with oranges and truffle. The truffles are also local, from the nearby woods. An aromatic start of the evening with a bit of sweetness. We were warned not to eat all the bread and leave some space for the other dishes. We left the pots aside but later we had a very good opportunity to return to them.

Homemade bread with beet
Homemade bread with beet
We really love bread and the smell of bread before we sit on the table
We really love bread and the smell of bread before we sit on the table. The wine here is the wonderful Aplauz Rose 2020 by Villa Melnik.

Amuse Bouche: Sweet peas/potato mousse with Samardala

The green mousse with drops of olive oil and a leaf of rosemary looked like a sparkling jewel in the middle of the glasses it was served in.. Fresh and airy, the taste overtook us. The emotion was like a first sunny spring day after a long winter. It tasted really fresh and we understood that the peas was not fully cooked but just blanched in water with salt and Samardala. Samardala is a very traditional aromatic herb in Bulgaria, used in sandwiches, soups and numerous other local dishes. The potatoes were roasted on the fireplace and eggs contribute to the fluffy texture. A wonderful and fresh start of our experience.

Cold Appetizer: The Four Seasons of Elena Kashkaval (Creative Cuisine)

This dish tells a whole story of a traditional Bulgarian product as protagonist. Spring – Soft Elena Kashkaval / Bulgarian Pine Honeydew. Summer – aromatic sand of Elena Kashkaval. Autumn – chocolate praline with smoked Elena Kashkaval and truffle. Winter – Elena Kashkaval/Nutmeg Ice-cream. This was a really exciting journey, beauty in a dish and rediscovering the Bulgarian taste – at least we felt it this way at Dieci restaurant.

The Four Seasons of Elena Kashkaval
The Four Seasons of Elena Kashkaval

Warm appetizer: Rainbow Trout Saltimbocca and Saffron Savory Creme Brulee

This was an exciting version of the classic Italian Saltimbocca dish with Bulgarian products. It featured trout from Ogosta river and “Elenski but” prosciutto. The salty Creme Brulee brought even more opulence to the taste and the emotion in this small but stunning beautiful roll.

Warm Appetizer: Saltimbocca with trout
Warm Appetizer: Saltimbocca with trout

Inspirational dish: Apple/Pancetta Panna Cotta, Foie Gras sand, Rakia cream sauce

It is astonishing how, like a jeweller, chef Gianfranco has polished to the last detail every single dish. Our curiousity is immense and we keep asking questions. Here we have 10-day maceration of apples in honey. Then they are mixed with pancetta and turned into pudding, served in the form of a beehive to pay respect to the honey. The sand of Foie Gras is probably our favourite way to eat this world-known delicacy. The texture is delicate and melting in the mouth. The rakia is made of dzhanka, a variety of plum widely popular here in Bulgaria. It was produced by the neighbour and matured by chef Gianfranco for 10 days in a wooden bottle. It brings the Balkan note to this creative French-Italian-Balkan dish. This was one of the most exciting dishes for the night.

Inspirational dish: Apple/Pancetta Panna Cotta, Foie Gras sand, Rakia cream sauce
Inspirational dish: Apple/Pancetta Panna Cotta, Foie Gras sand, Rakia cream sauce
Enjoying a great dinner and having a great time at Dieci restaurant
Enjoying a great dinner and having a great time at Dieci restaurant

Pasta: Polenta/Izvara gnocchi with garlic oil and Lyutenitsa

Chef Gianfranco asked for our honest opinion about the Lyutenitsa – a very traditional Bulgarian chutney of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and herbs. Every granny in Bulgaria has her own Lyutenitsa secret recipe and every Bulgarian has childhood memories including bread slices with Lyutenitsa. So with this dish chef Gianfranco brought a classic Bulgarian taste to traditional Italian pasta. He admitted that he consulted a local granny about the recipe and preparation. Then, after a few attempts, he did it successfully. We can say that his Lyutenitsa is really close to our childhood memories.

Pasta: Polenta/Izvara gnocchi with garlic oil and Lyutenitsa
Pasta: Polenta/Izvara gnocchi with garlic oil and Lyutenitsa

And here came the time of the bread we strategically left aside. As real connoisseurs of high-class cuisine, but also real Bulgarians, we couldn’t resist to spread the Lyutenitsa left after the gnocchi on the bread and eat it like when we were kids.

Maria, bread and Lyutenitsa
Maria, bread and Lyutenitsa

Cold fish course: Gilt-head beam Ceviche, red onions in saor, buckwheat risotto, salmon roe

A beautiful, tender and refreshing dish! The fish comes from the Black sea and is cold-cooked in salt and lemon for 2 hours. Fennel brings an aromatic note to the risotto, which balances the acidity of the fish with its earthy texture and taste. Thank you again, chef Gianfranco, for bringing us such pleasure!

Gilt-head beam Ceviche
Gilt-head beam Ceviche at DIECI restaurant, Bulgaria

Intermezzo or let’s have some rest from eating

„Stanco di mangiare“ – we learned this expression during one of our first trips to Italy. We often need it in the country where good food is on a pedestal but they are not kidding with the quantities either. It means “Tired of eating”, which is something that can often happen to you in Italy. As we are having business with Italians here, this could also happen if there weren’t the 15-minute break in the middle of the menu. We could compare it to the entr’acte during long opera and theatre performances. It’s not that the performance is boring or has some problem to move on. But it is always good to have a small pause to process in your head the things that are happening on the stage and put your emotions and impressions in order.

During the break you can sit on the sofa, see the books in the library or just continue the pleasant talk
During the break you can sit on the sofa, see the books in the library or just continue the pleasant conversation

In our 15-minute break we went outside to see the yards of the former school. Nowadays it is planted with neatly maintained green grass, fruit trees are growing here and there and by the fence we see recently planted vines, brought from the Melnik region. We are quite curious whether the indigenous Melnik grape varieties will develop here. But this is yet to be seen in the coming years.

In the yard there is also space for vegetable garden. Currently they still prepare the soil for this. Separately, there is a fire pit where chef Gianfranco plans to organize BBQ classes and cook for the restaurant as well. The female dog Texas, another inhabitant of the house, has at least two dog houses. But she is educated not to disturb the guests.

Warm fish course: Balkan octopus with parsnip and algae olive oil

The octopus is sometimes from the Black sea and sometimes from the Aegean sea, depending on the catch and supply. But it is definitely Balkan, fitting perfectly in the concept of pairing Balkan and Italian cuisine. The pink thing in the dish is beetroot powder and everything is seasoned with algae extra virgin olive oil. The oil is from the highest class and comes from Spain.

Warm fish course: Balkan octopus with parsnip and algae olive oil
Warm fish course: Balkan octopus with parsnip and algae olive oil

Wild meat: Guinea fowl ballotine, smoked kashkaval, Elenski but prosciutto and apricot barbecue sauce

Here we want to greet chef Anna Chiarini for the perfect service and the effort she throws in presenting the dishes in Bulgarian language to her local guests. The Bulgarian word for guinea fowl is not an easy one, neither an often used one. However, she did perfectly with all weird Bulgarian words so we could have the best idea of what was in the dish. The Chiarini family are doing amazingly with languages, as chef Gianfranco speaks 7 languages and chef Anna speaks fluently 6 languages. So perfect communication is guaranteed.

This dish, as all before it and all after it, was a perfect piece, leaving us wordless. The meat was extremely tender and the apricot barbecue sauce was memorable. We understood that chef Gianfranco is famous with his amazing barbeque sauces. We can’t wait to attend a barbecue event at Dieci Boutique restaurant.

Wild meat: Guinea fowl ballotine, smoked kashkaval, Elenski but prosciutto and apricot barbecue sauce
Wild meat: Guinea fowl ballotine, smoked kashkaval, Elenski but prosciutto and apricot barbecue sauce

Farmed meat course: Kebapche

Kebapche is a signature dish for Bulgarian cuisine, loved by almost all Bulgarians. Here we have Pepper Beef Kepapche, sumac crust, lemon/parsley pesto, lavender/potato puree. This Kebapche was really exciting, juicy, with traditional Bulgarian herbs, emitting the warmth of a family fireplace in the winter. Or a campfire in the summer. An exciting journey through Bulgarian cuisine.

Farmed meat course: Kebapche
Farmed meat course: Kebapche, DIECI style

Pre-dessert: Chushki ice cream

“Chushki” is a popular Bulgarian word for various kinds of peppers. Red, green, chilly or sweet – all of them are types of “chushki”. On the other side, the Bulgarian word for ice cream includes a “sweet” suggestion. But we are extremely happy when we are offered unexpected tastes and combinations. So this ice cream is made of peppers, garnished with spicy saffron and chocolate ganache with orange. A wonderful refreshing step after the main menu and before the main dessert. We are waiting for the latter with even greater excitement already.

Chushki ice cream
Chushki ice cream

The dessert: Banitsa with boza, DIECI style

Here it is, another creative variation of a very traditional Bulgarian food combination – banitsa and boza. Banitsa is the widely loved natural pastry, made from pie crusts, eggs, yoghurt and cheese or a sweet filling. Boza is a fermented drink from grains, usually millet or barley. This one is made of barley and buckwheat from Bulgaria.

So what do we have here? Deconstructed banitsa with Bulgarian rose water and ricotta parfait. Surrounded by small drops of home-made chocolate boza veloute. A velvety touch that take us to the Valley of Roses in May or June.

The dessert: Sweet banitsa with craft Boza
The dessert: Sweet banitsa with craft Boza

Dieci restaurant and wine

The only drinks served in Dieci restaurant are water and wine. Because wine is the drink that fits best the menu created by chefs Gianfranco and Anna Chiarini and brings the perfect finish to the food experience. The thing that makes us extremely happy is that their exclusive wine partner is Villa Melnik – one of our most favourite Bulgarian wineries and one of the World’s 50 Best Vineyards. Both chefs agreed that this is the winery that best fits to their concept and they have no plans to work with other wine producers.

Maria and Aplauz Rose wine by Villa Melnik
Maria and Aplauz Rose wine by Villa Melnik

For every dish of the menu there is a carefully paired different wine. Chef Anna Chiarini herself in in charge of the selection. In DIECI you can find some of the very limited wines of Villa Melnik, including the Rare Varieties series – Melnik Jubilee 1300, Shiroka Melnik and Ruen.

The wine pairing selection can be ordered as an addition to the main food menu. If you are not in the mood for wine or you just need to drive, it is not mandatory to order. You can also order any of the wines by the glass. But if you have the opportunity to make the full tasting with paired wines, it will be worth.

DIECI and the dream of a Michelin star

Chef Chiarini hopes that restaurant DIECI will bring the first Michelin star to Bulgaria in one of two years. Or will enter the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. But despite the dreams of being in prestigious charts and lists, the number one goal of DIECI is a separate one: to bring unique experience to its guests, to help them escape daily life for a few hours, to make them look to the world and food in a different way. Hospitality here is on a level we have never seen before. There are no hired staff. Chefs Gianfranco and Anna Chiarini open their home and hearts to everyone crossing the door of the former school.

The kitchen of Chiariny family, where we felt like guests
The kitchen of Chiariny family, where we felt like guests

How to reach DIECI and where to stay

Devino is a remote village with only 8 residents on the road between towns of Veliko Tarnovo and Targovishte in Northern Bulgaria. It is about 3.5 hours drive from Sofia and 2 hours from Varna. When visiting the restaurant, many people decide to stay in Veliko Tarnovo, which is 40 km away. It is actually a very good idea to combine the visit with a walk around the historical town of Veliko Tarnovo. There are also options for guest accommodation in the villages near Devino (you can also ask chef Gianfranco for recommendations).

Google Map Coordinates: 43°08’04.7″N 26°07’22.0″E

How to visit and how much it costs

Although this information is on DIECI’s website, many people asked us about the price of this experience. So we decided to share it here as well. In Dieci Boutique Restaurant they won’t give you a traditional menu list from which you order one or two dishes. There is only the seasonal 10-course tasting menu, developed by chef Chiarini, which represents the perfect symbiosis and journey between Bulgarian products and Italian inspiration and creativity.

During our visit in June 2021, we tasted the spring menu which will be available until the end of July 2021. Then they will present the summer menu. The price of the full tasting menu is 260 BGN per guest (130 EUR). Full wine pairing with 10 wines is 120 BGN (60 EUR). If you have any dietary restrictions, they will offer you a personally created menu regarding your limitations. The only requirement in such cases is that you need to book at least a week in advance. Booking is easy and the hosts are extremely responsive on the e-mail or phone. So when you pick your date, go into the restaurant’s website and write to them to organise your journey.

In our series Dining with Diners Club Bulgaria we tell you about unique culinary and wine experiences, inspired by the story of the first credit card in the world that started in a restaurant. It every day reminds us that the culinary experience is a part of every trip. Read the other articles from the series here.

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