Collbran girl’s good taste leads to restaurant fame
Growing up in Collbran, Amy Bellotti always felt Italian.
Now that the professional chef and sommelier is living in northern Italy, the old country of her father, she is perennially the American.
Never mind that she now speaks English with an Italian accent — “That’s what happens after spending 12 years here,” the 34-year-old said — she rarely has a chance to speak English except with her children.
Her upbringing in western Colorado served her well. She and French-born husband, Marc Lanteri, 42, who also is a chef, are celebrating their latest achievement. Their restaurant in Mondavi, in the Piedmont region, recently received a one-star rating in the Michelin Red Guide Italia.
The Michelin Red guide is the oldest and best-known European restaurant guide. One star is coveted by restaurateurs and ranks the eatery among the best in the world. Three stars are awarded only to a few dozen restaurants internationally.
Bellotti’s restaurant, Il Baluardo, which means “the bulwark,” is in a renovated historic space originally constructed in the fifth century, within the medieval walls of the piazza quarter of Mondavi.
Bellotti raised chicken, rabbits and hogs when she was in the 4-H Club. She took to heart her father’s immigrant heritage and the six-generation Colorado roots of her mother, Suzanne Bellotti. She was raised with good food and high expectations, she said. Her cousin raised premium Colorado lamb in Meeker.
Graduating from Plateau Valley High School in 1994, she headed to Colorado State University, fully expecting to focus on wildlife biology. But she couldn’t keep her nose out of the cookbooks.
She changed her major and received a degree in hotel and restaurant management. It seemed to be her destiny, she said.
Bellotti took a trip to Italy with her aunt, a Benedictine sister in Colorado Springs, and ended up in the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners.
When time came for an internship, she landed at a restaurant in Cuneo, Italy, with Lanteri, her future husband, despite the fact he had requested a young Japanese chef as an intern.
“He got an American instead,” she said.
Bellotti earned her three-year accreditation from the Association Italiana Sommelier as a 50th birthday gift to her father, Larry Bellotti, who kept pestering her with questions about wine. Now she knows all the answers.
Today, the chef and sommelier run Il Baluardo, which opened in 2008. Their two children, 8-year-old Juliette and Arthur, 3, are regular fixtures in the restaurant, which serves Franco-Italian cuisine. The children spend summers with their grandparents in Collbran.
On winning the Michelin star, Bellotti said the emotions were “euphoria, fear, stress. Marc was nearly in tears.” The stress comes from the fact that once you win the distinction, perfection is expected.
The award comes with an estimated 25 percent increase in business.
“Clients come from Milan with a Michelin Book in their hands. Once that guide is released, no mistakes, it is a quest for perfection. Every customer is a critic,” Bellotti said.
Customers travel for many miles and expect the Michelin-rated experience, she said.
Il Baluardo stocks a 500-label wine cellar with Piedmont region selections and French and New World wine. The wine bottles and the kitchen are visible and framed for diners to view.
Bellotti said she would love to have some Colorado wines on the menu, but very few American wines are imported to Italy.
In the meantime, the family visits western Colorado once a year, taking in the sights, the food and wine.
The mutual admiration is apparent. Bellotti’s father jokes that he wants to retire and come to Italy to be her dishwasher.