Sharing a passion for flowers and food the Italian couple Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti opened a restaurant concept in their new Manhatten home that combines the beauty, environmental and health benefits of flowers and herbs to delicious culinary pleasures. At il Fiorista you can buy flowers in their own flower shop or take classes in fermentation and flowers, besides enjoying a cocktail with blossoms and a delicious meal.
IRMA: How was the unique idea of IL FIORISTA born?
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: Me and my husband love nature and we have always had a green garden in Europe. A few years ago, I (Alessandra) started studying Botanics and fell in love with the beauty and health benefits of flowers. Owning a restaurant is something we’ve always dreamed of, so it seemed like a natural fit to incorporate flowers and herbs. We love the passion of New Yorkers and wanted a change for our family after living in Milan.
IRMA: Can you explain a little bit which flowers and herbs we can expect this autumn?
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: On the menu right now we are using chrysanthemum, sunflower, rose hips, nasturtium, hibiscus harissa, flowering marjoram and geranium just to name a few and, as we move into fall, we will have anise hyssop flowers, fennel flowers and forget-me-nots. Flowering herbs will be on centre stage as well, such as, sage, Mexican tarragon, shiso, mint and rosemary.
IRMA: Do flowers, when cooked or eaten, have any health benefits? If so, can you give us an example please?
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: Flowers offer a variety of health benefits, as they are often full of antioxidants and nutrients. Consuming flowers can help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. Many herbs and flowers aid with digestion, boost the immune system, and have anti-bacterial qualities that make them natural detoxifiers. For example, we have a blue lotus tea that is not only a gentle anti-depressant, but it is also very rich in plant collagen. Additionally, we use chrysanthemum in our Montauk fluke crudo that is said to promote heart health and increase metabolism.
IRMA: What does it mean to you to live with flowers and use them for cooking.
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: Our mission is for Il Fiorista to serve as a community space that brings people together to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the world around us. We are harnessing the power of flowers for their aesthetic beauty in our space, health benefits in our food and drinks and mood-boosting qualities in our educational classes.
IRMA: The saying “One eats with the eye” fits perfectly your concept of food. How and who is art directing your plates?
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: Our menu was designed by Executive Chef, Garrison Price, who has nearly two decades of experience in the culinary world working with renowned chefs and restaurants.
IRMA: What is your best-selling dish and why do you think people love it so much?
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: Our best-selling plates are, for the little bites, the seeded crackers where we use the sunflowers seeds for the crackers itself and the shoots and the petals for the dip, also the sweet potato sourdough bread is one favorite for little bites as it is served with nasturtium flowers and cultured butter and buttermilk. For the starters, seared spot prawns with Anson Mills polenta, flowering bok choy, and our house made hibiscus harissa; as main course the duck cappellacci with beets, swiss chard and pink peppercorn and the arctic char with grilled peach, sprouted hazelnuts and succulents. We really think these are the favourites because of their flavour profiles and the perfect balance between different ingredients
IRMA: What sources do you use for your edible flowers?
ALESSANDRA & MARIO DE BENEDETTI: We are committed to sourcing our flowers and herbs from local and regional farmers as much as we can. We are using these amazing flowers and herbs for drinks, food and for our own bouquets and arrangements. We also provide flowers to third parties including hotels and offices.