Welcome back to the “Our Italians” series of interviews. In these, we focus on food artisans, experts, and producers in Italy or abroad. These passionate individuals are committed to sharing the best in Italian food, wine, and traditional products, through family-owned businesses and small scale enterprises, and we’re here to introduce them to you. Today we meet Giuseppe Fiorilla owner of Ùmmara Ristorante/Vineria, a restaurant and wine destination in Scicli, Sicily.
We had the pleasure meeting of Giuseppe during a research trip to Scicli and eating and drinking at Ùmmara. We hit it off with him from the moment we sat down at our table. His passion for natural wines rivals ours as does his love for Sicily and local and seasonal food. We can’t wait to return! Meet Giuseppe!
Casa Mia (CM): How did Ùmmara start?
Giuseppe: Ùmmara opened its doors on September 25, 2016. The idea started from a dream to have something of my own, a place that would fill hearts with joy and stomachs with food; a place where people could hang out with friends drinking both good wine and eat good food. So I quit my old job and decided to roll the dice.
CM: What is the philosophy of the restaurant?
Giuseppe: At the base of everything is honest, good food. Starting from the wine list (composed entirely of wine producers who respect the land of Sicily and promote quality) which features only “vini vivi” (live wine). After the wine comes the food. The menu features simple, good, no frills, local cooking.
CM: What does Ùmmara mean?
Giuseppe: It means shade, shadow, from the Italian ombra (in dialect, Ùmmara). There are two reasons why I chose this name for my dream spot. One is because until the 1920s, in all the old osterie (taverns) in Scicli, (in dialedt, Putia ro vino), a glass of red wine was called ummara ri vinu (shade of wine). It’s very similar to Venice where a glass of wine enjoyed at a bacaro (wine bar) is referred to as ombra de vin (shade of wine). The second reason I chose Ùmmara as the name is the sense of relaxation that comes from shade. If we want to talk more seriously, on a 45°C day in sun-drenched Sicily with the sun baking the stone streets, we Sicilians prefer stare all’ombra (to stay in the shade).
CM: Tell us about the people behind the restaurant.
Giuseppe: My name is Giuseppe Fiorilla, the owner and manager of Ùmmara. I have over 20 years of experience working in restaurants and pizzerias in the province of Ragusa. At 22 years old, I moved to Parma to study Gastronomic Sciences. Although I didn’t finish my degree, it was in Parma that I discovered by passion for wine and food. I no longer saw food and wine as physical nourishment but as way to identify and connect to a culture and a means of sharing and exchanging experiences. I returned to Scicli in 2011 and in 2015, I married my life partner Barbara. We decided to try investing in Scicli by opening Ùmmara in 2016. In 2017 our first child Agata Vincenza Fiorilla was born.
The chef is Roberta Padua. Formally she studied art in Modica. After she graduated high school, she moved to to Rome to study at an institute of design where she graduated at the top of her class. After graduation from the institute, she decided to focus cooking and pastry making for which she always had a passion. She’s been working at Ùmmara since 2016.
Pietro is our maitre-sommelier. He is the main person who recommends our wine pairings. Pietro has a lot of experience in the world of food and wine. In 2010, he graduated with a major in Gastronomic Sciences in Parma. He went on to complete a Masters in Management and Development in Economics after which he worked for the GDO as the Head of Human Resources for diverse large European firms. After a while, exhausted by hectic city life he too decided to return to his home town with his wife and lots of experience. He joined Ùmmara 5 months after we opened.
CM: How would you describe the menu and the cuisine at Ùmmara?
Giuseppe: We have a simple menu that uses only local products always respecting the raw/initial ingredients. The focus is on excellence and tradition.
CM: How would you describe the wine list?
Giuseppe: At the moment our list is comprised of 320 wines.
Wines that reflect our land.
Wines that are a result of hard work and sweat.
Wines that mirror the character of the wine makers.
Natural wines are at the base of Ùmmara.
It’s the only wine list of this type south of Rome. Few restaurants and wine bars in Italy can claim to have a wine list of natural wines only.
CM: How often does the menu change?
Giuseppe: Our menu is seasonal and changes accordingly.
CM: If you had to choose three plates that represent the restaurant which would they be?
Giuseppe: Caciocavallo all’argentiera: Ragusano cheese, grilled and dressed with vinegar and oregano; spaghetti con tenerumi, capuliato e caciocavallo: tender leaves from the long Sicilian squash found in the summertime with chopped sundried tomatoes and aged caciocavallo cheese; Millefoglie di limone (thin pastry made with almond flour, sugar and egg whites layered with sour lemon chantilly cream) which is fresh and a fabulous ending to the meal.
CM: Is there anything else that you’d like to say to our readers?
Giuseppe: Come by. We will make you feel at home and make you fall in love with the real Sicily (that isn’t Taormina).
We couldn’t agree with Giuseppe more and hope that you’ll have a chance to meet him and enjoy Ùmmara.
Photos contributed by Simone Aprile, Gina Tringali and Linda Sarris.