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Tre Olivi: The Restaurant that Achieved 2 Michelin Stars in 9 Months in Paestum.

Marco Castaldi
copertina tre olivi

"Creativity makes sense when it's a means to engage, not an end in itself." Giovanni Solofra crafts a cuisine that reimagines fine dining as more inclusive than exclusive, tailoring the experience to each individual guest. But Tre Olivi in Paestum also shines in service and pastry.

The story

On November 23rd, 2021, the Tre Olivi restaurant in Paestum went from having no Michelin stars to proudly holding two, all in just 9 months of hard work by chef Giovanni Solofra within the kitchens of the Savoy Beach Hotel. "A sensory and territorial gastronomic experience capable of surprising with finesse, taste, idea, and technique," are some of the reasons behind the Michelin recognition. This achievement is as prestigious as it is unusual, as Michelin usually favors gradual progress.

giovanni solofra

Giovanni was born in 1982 in Torre Annunziata and began working in kitchens to support himself during his studies until he realized that this was his calling. He decided to leave his law studies and pursue a culinary career. He started from the plonge, the area for dishwashing, and this journey speaks of daily small steps and a lot of hard work. He says, "The only way to reach certain goals."

giovanni solofra 2

He has achieved several milestones, thanks to significant experiences with Quique Dacosta, Ciccio Sultano, and Heinz Beck, where he spent about 9 years and even held the role of sous chef. Beck eventually offered him the opportunity to lead the St. George Restaurant in Taormina, where he earned a Michelin star in 2018, with the help and support of his colleague and life partner, Roberta Merolli.

roberta merolli

"We are a duo in every sense; she is my right hand and the sweetest part of me," the chef admits, referring to Roberta's role as the pastry chef. Born in 1984 in Abruzzo, she also left university to pursue a career in cooking and pastry. She boasts significant experiences, from working with Bonci and Morandin to Anthony Genovese and the Aspley Restaurant in London with Heinz Beck. It was precisely this experience that earned her the trust of the German chef, who wanted her to join him at La Pergola in Rome, alongside pastry chef Giuseppe Amato, where she met Giovanni."

giovanni solofra e roberta merolli 4

In 2020, the two of them decided that it was time to break away from Master Beck and take the plunge on their own. They accepted the proposal from Salvatore Pagano, the general manager of the Savoy Beach Hotel, to move to Cilento and work in the kitchens of Tre Olivi. "It's often said that no one is a prophet in their own land, but for me, this was an additional motivation to do well," confesses the Campanian chef. "Furthermore, the property offered us a beautiful space where we could freely express ourselves, understanding that to aim high, the support of everyone is necessary, as important goals are achieved by the team, not by individuals."

giovanni solofra e roberta merolli

Giovanni and Roberta began by studying the territory, its characteristics, and the many products that have made it the cradle of the Mediterranean diet. That famous lifestyle known worldwide, which is based on regular workout and the consumption of certain foods that can positively impact our health. They studied ingredients like vegetables, cereals, oil, salt, and aromatic herbs to highlight their unique qualities. Their modern and personal approach has been highly appreciated by Michelin, which rewarded their "generosity, precision, and meticulousness in every preparation."

tre olivi sala 2

The restaurant

"Tre Olivi is an idea first and foremost. My dream has always been to create the most beautiful restaurant in the world, where people come to feel good." From the chef's words, you can sense a vision naturally focused on the customer, free from the strict constraints usually imposed by renowned restaurants. He states, "We do hospitality; our task is to provide comfort and make people feel good, not to impose or set restrictions. We should be the ones adapting to the guests' needs, not the other way around." This clear and simple philosophy reimagines fine dining as more inclusive than exclusive, a place where guests come not only for the cuisine but also to connect with a team that becomes a seamless part of the experience itself. The chef adds, "Creativity makes sense when it's not an end in itself but a means to engage."

giovanni solofra e roberta merolli 5

This concept strongly emphasizes the idea of sharing and translates into dishes often designed specifically, streamlined, or even diversified at the same table, with a constant focus on health and well-being resulting from eating healthy. "I remember a completely liquid diet created specifically for someone who had difficulty swallowing," the chef explains, "or a lady who really wanted a chocolate dessert, and we improvised it for her; the gratitude of these people is the most important reward I can receive." Their culinary approach is inextricably linked to the territory, as mentioned earlier, but told in a fun and modern way, never nostalgic. They give great importance to flavor, which should warm the heart, and to storytelling, which is original and intimate, centered not only on local ingredients or suppliers but also on images or stories that evoke a past filled with authentic local and family traditions.

giovanni solofra e roberta merolli 3

It's a transcendence of what the chef describes as "thinking global and making local," meaning an openness to culinary influences while maintaining a strong focus on the local region. In this approach, the ingredients from the Cilento region and vegetables from their own garden become valuable tools for crafting a unique and memorable sensory experience. This is made possible with the assistance of technologies like cold extractors and Rotavapor, which reduce waste and yield more concentrated and natural flavors. "My grandparents taught me that setting the table and sitting down for a meal is a true ritual, meant to pause time and focus on the present, savoring it and making it last as long as possible," the chef explains.

tre olivi sala 1

To achieve this, a menu is designed to entertain, intrigue, and captivate. For instance, "Oh, mamma mia, let me go," a 12-course menu for €220, or a 10-course menu for €190, with the option to add a wine pairing of 3 wines for €65 or 5 wines for €110. "The menu is entirely dedicated to childhood, the memories of a Southern child, first loves, acknowledging the holiness of the dining table and its contradictions. It's about transcending often overly rigid rules imposed by etiquette, which restrict the authentic expression of one's self in the name of outdated beliefs," Chef Solofra explains. "There's an idea and a concept behind the dishes that can be approached either in a technical and in-depth manner or in a carefree and playful way – it depends on the individuals. But we aim to cater to everyone." There is also a menu that offers six options, mainly signature dishes tied to the season and designed for those who return often or have strong attachments to specific dishes. Chef Solofra continues, "About 10% of our clientele chooses to dine à la carte. Economically, it wouldn't make sense to keep it, but it's a special treat, a gesture of care that I don't want to give up."

tre olivi paestum 1

The main dining room is spacious, elegant, and refined, with a warm and welcoming ambiance achieved through the extensive use of wood for the floors and many valuable objects that remind guests of the olive tree, the symbol of the Mediterranean diet. It recreates the typical festive family atmosphere. The second dining area, used as an outdoor space in the summer, is dedicated to dessert and small pastry offerings, allowing guests to move from one space to another. This concept is inspired by the idea of being called by one's mother when the meal is ready, creating a sense of homey comfort. The table setting is deliberately minimal, with only a tablecloth and a plate. The rest is gradually added during the meal.

tre olivi sala 3

The dishes

The dining experience at Tre Olivi begins with an aperitif, featuring Italian sparkling wines, local or French, or house-made gin-based drinks, accompanied by amuse-bouches that celebrate the region's history. For example, smoked almond milk with tobacco evokes buffalo mozzarella and the local tobacco industry; tomato concassé with iced water meringue is a nod to Cirio, a company that bought tomatoes in Cilento; and strawberries, both fresh and in sorbet, pay tribute to the famous "fior di fragola," served with ginger and pepper.

giovanni solofra amuse bouche

The experience continues with a cart offering a selection of self-produced oils, including hazelnut and pumpkin seed oils, and salts like seaweed salt or salt obtained from seawater evaporation. This is followed by an assortment of bread, made from selected Cilento grains collected by Terra di Resilienza, a social cooperative dedicated to rediscovering and valuing the rural resources of Southern Italy. One intriguing aspect is the "vegetable charcuterie" cart, born from the need to use excess produce from the garden, following the modern "zero waste" strategy, while aiming to inspire a new, unusual, and captivating perspective on the world of vegetables. The vegetables are treated and presented as if they were meat or fish. For instance, the flavor of zucchini resembles lard, pumpkin evokes smoked salmon, red pepper crumbs suggest a pork duo, and oyster mushrooms mimic a steak cooked on coals.

tre olivi carrello pane

Giovanni explains, "Vegetables are the foundation of my cuisine, the starting point for every dish, to which I add the protein component." The first course offers a Neapolitan classic, "A pan e puparuole," reimagined with foie gras in various textures, a reduced pepper sauce, and toasted bread to facilitate chewing. The subsequent dish is raw Gobbetto prawns (pink prawns) served with ajo blanco, an Andalusian sauce made from garlic, almonds, and apple vinegar, and it's topped with almond shavings, recreating daisy petals and the playful "loves me, loves me not" gesture.

giovanni solofra o pan e puparuole
giovanni solofra m ama non m ama 1

The journey continues with references to childhood dining reprimands, like the one scolding for tasting sauce directly from the "cucchiarella." It's an amuse-bouche of tomato reduction, tuna tartare, and capers. Giovanni legitimizes this action and recalls the taste of burnt tomato on the pot's edges. Next is "Briciole," another childhood no-no, where crumbs are obtained from freeze-drying mussels and sprinkled on gratinated cannolicchi (razor clams), served with their own broth and dashi broth.

giovanni solofra cucchiarella di pomodoro
giovanni solofra briciole 1

With "Stai zitto...in tutte le lingue del mondo" (Be quiet...in all languages of the world), they pay homage to street vendors of "’o pere e ‘o musso," offering tongue of veal boiled and passed under the salamander, accompanied by various sauces, including curry, chimichurri, and anchovy colatura, which recreate the famous tongue-sticking-out gesture made famous by the Rolling Stones. The playful journey continues with "Just do it," featuring an oyster and gazpacho, breaking two dining rules: eating with hands and drinking from the bottle. The oyster is cooked on the griddle, accompanied by oyster mushrooms and garlic sauce. The gazpacho is made with celery, tomato, and zucchini water and is meant to be consumed directly from the bottle to refresh the palate.

giovanni solofra stai zitto in tutte le lingue del mondo

One of the most interesting dishes in the course is "Eresia," a pasta with clams that surprises and satisfies, breaking conventions inherent to an iconic dish. It uses a different type of pasta, cappelletti instead of spaghetti, adds broth made from clam water, and features a (fake) grated cheese made from cooking water, lemongrass, parsley, and ginger. Giovanni says, "It's a dish close to my heart because I managed to make Neapolitans accept the transformation of a traditional dish. I include an important liquid component that makes it even more iodized and aromatic, to be enjoyed first with the nose and then with the mouth."

giovanni solofra pasta eresia 1

The second course is "I pescatori d'argento" (The Silver Fishermen), a creamy risotto with squid ink and marinated anchovies. The "argento" refers to the stripes on the anchovies, visible only in the moonlight and, therefore, more easily seen late at night. This inevitably led young fishermen to disobey the "don't stay out too late" rule.

giovanni solofra i pescatori d argento

"The big fish. Ho visto una balena" (The big fish. I saw a whale) is a dish inspired by the sighting of a whale during a sea journey. Giovanni tells, "Upon returning, I told my friend about it, and he thought I was out of my mind; he didn't believe me." This inspired the creation of a small amberjack tartare, served with caviar and liquid mozzarella salad, placed inside a large fish drawn on the plate using reduced and concentrated dashi broth, giving it the depth of a main course.

giovanni solofra the big fish

Well-executed "Icaro," a pigeon with 45 days of aging, wrapped in beeswax and sage leaves instead of feathers, succulent and perfectly grilled over coals, served with a whiskey reduction, black olive sauce, eggplant, and lime. This dish alludes to the Greek myth of Icarus and his desire to fly, even if it meant falling.

giovanni solofra piccione

As is customary for children, after reprimands, there comes a playful moment. Guests move to the next room, where music boxes, kaleidoscopes, and other toys serve as a prologue to the dessert service. The highlight is a creation representing the union between chefs Fabrizia Merolli and Giovanni Solofra, combining the culinary traditions of Abruzzo and Campania. It's presented in the form of fig jam, lemon sorbet, licorice mousse, and a saffron waffle in the shape of a "presentosa," a symbol of a promise made by a fiancé to his future wife before their wedding.

roberta merolli dessert 2

The second dessert step involves a cart with more sweet treats to choose from, such as Caprese cake, babà, and the famous "graffe" (doughnuts), which will be prepared live in the future, thanks to a dedicated space in the same room. The experience concludes with a diverse selection of small pastries, including chocolates, cremini, macarons, nougat, and confetti, serving as the grand finale of a theatrical performance scripted and directed impeccably.

tre olivi paestum 2

While the customer is undoubtedly the star of the show, the team in the dining room are the main actors. They can describe and narrate the dishes with grace, precision, and the expertise of experience, despite their young age. "I have a lot of credibility on this team; we are building something significant that arises from daily discussions and sometimes uncomfortable but necessary conversations for everyone's growth," says the chef.

tre olivi piccola pasticceria

To complete the experience, there is a classic-style wine list, not particularly extensive but well-structured. It includes a small selection of wines by the glass, local and Italian sparkling wines in large formats, and a fine selection of prestigious labels from the most renowned regions of France, from Champagne to Alsace, Burgundy, and the Loire. Interestingly, there is a preference for rosé wines. The list also features wines from Campania region, both white and red, with a broad overview of the various subregions. Other Italian regions are less explored. There are also wines from Hungary, Slovenia, Georgia, Chile, Australia, and the rest of the world. "I'd like wine to generate the same level of engagement as food. The sommelier should avoid getting too technical with tasting notes that only an expert could recognize; otherwise, guests might feel inadequate. Creating continuous synergy and ensuring that the staff in the dining room have fun while doing it is crucial. After all, how can they make the guests enjoy themselves if they're not having fun?" Giovanni concludes, "It's like directing a film." The curtain falls.  


Tre Olivi

Via Poseidonia, 41, 84047 Paestum SA

Tel: +39 0828 720023


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