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The art of Italian

When Lucio Galletto opened up a restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Paddington he didn’t truly envisage that it would become a cultural icon, as much an art gallery as an Italian trattoria. But due to the warm generosity of the restaurateur and clientele, this is exactly what has happened. Adorning the restaurant’s walls are works by some of the biggest names in Australian art such as Sidney Nolan, John Olsen and Garry Shead, to name but a few. The story of how this all came about and how it has helped develop his food is detailed in Lucio’s latest book, The Art of Traditional Italian.

Childhood memories

Lucio has always been surrounded by food, and by art. He grew up in a village on the Ligurian coast of Italy where his parents had a restaurant. He recalls the fun and convivial nature of his parents serving both friends and strangers.

Almost as vividly, he recalls being mesmerised by the ornate and detailed sculptures, paintings and architecture of his poor, but culturally rich, local church. The combination has had a long and lasting affect on Lucio.

So when it came to be that he opened the doors of Lucio’s in 1981 he was determined to extend the same welcoming nature that his parents had shown at their restaurant. By chance, Paddington was home to an artists’ studio, which many of Sydney’s up and coming painters and sculptures used as their creative centre, and for many of these, Lucio’s became their second home.

The art evolves

“Artists started to come in and some started giving me their work because they found out that I had a love of art, and so it happened,” recalls Lucio. “We didn’t plan this, we didn’t say ‘let’s make an art restaurant’, it just happened over years.

“It all started with Sidney Nolan. He was involved with the movie Burke and Wills as an advisor. When they finished filming each day he would come in to eat. One time he drew a little artwork on a napkin and left it behind. I was really taken with it. You know, beautiful gold leaf – I put it up on the wall.

“Well, that was the first piece of art on the wall. And when Sidney came back he looked up and saw his art and he was really taken with the fact I had given it so much love. After that he gave me some more drawings and the other art pieces.

I think from that, the artists understood that I love art and artists, I look after their work. I am really honoured that they put their work up on the walls of my restaurant. It’s a great honour for me… and it all turned up by chance.

“I have some great artists that come to the restaurant and they draw on napkins, plates, or in the oyster shells. They feel really at home and comfortable, and it makes me feel good that I have created this feeling, to be able to collaborate, because of the hospitality, the conviviality of my restaurant.”

The Art of Traditional Italian by Lucio Galletto with photography by Ben Dearnley (Penguin)

RRP $59.99

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