There’s a definite food buzz around Rione Monti punctuated by a few notable openings in the last week.I visited the newly opened “Antico Forno ai Serpenti” and had a chance to interview owner Alessandro Santomauro and talk with Sergio Conti who oversees all baking and bread making. I also spent some time in the kitchen and behind the counter getting to know the staff and sampling many fresh out of the oven goodies.
Below is our interview. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Why did you open the forno (bakery)?
It’s a longstanding personal passion of mine, I’m a lawyer by training and I’ll continue practicing. After deciding to open the forno, my challenge was to find a bread maker/baker who could create the high quality traditional products that I envisioned and an architect to restore the space. Luckily, I met the Conti family who agreed to work with me in this venture.
Can you tell me about the Conti family and their role here?
The Conti family are very well known and talented in the art of bread and pastry making. They own the “Antico Forno di Trastevere”. Sergio Conti is onsite daily testing and retesting his family recipes making sure our customers receive consistent delicious baked goods while his sister, Elisabetta, supervises the counter.
Why did you choose the name “Antico Forno ai Serpenti”?
It is the name of the original forno which dates back to around 1860. The sign on Via Parnisperna speaks of a time past, of the old forno, so we decided to keep the name but create a interior space that is visibly different. The forno is chameleonic; you can enjoy cornetti (crossaint) for breakfast, lasagna for lunch or a quick after-work aperitivo.
Why did you choose to design the interior in a 1930s style?
We wanted to create something different from the common forno format that you see around Rome, to take a risk. We worked with our architect to bring the air of a French brasserie to the space. We personally chose the Carrara marble for the walls and Gialla di Sienna marble for the bench seating. The iron barstools were designed by an artisan in the neighborhood.
Which goods do you consider to be your signature products?
Pizza bianca (Roman style pizza usually topped with olive oil and salt and sold by weight), pizza rossa (Roman style pizza topped with tomato sauce) and traditional breads from the region of Lazio including cioriola romana (individual size bread) and lariano (loaves made from whole wheat, a natural yeast starter, simple yeast dough, salt and water). For sweets I would say cornetti, ciambellone (bundt cake) and brutti ma buoni (ugly but good gluten free) cookies. We’ll also be making panettone this weekend for the holiday season.
Can you talk to me a bit more about the products and recipes?
We are in the opening operational phase so we’re testing and retesting recipes and looking for the best local products to use when available. For example, we use prosciutto di Bassiano and DOP ricotta romana cheese which are both from the region of Lazio. For our bread we’re talking with Mulino Marino which is based the region of Piedmont and is known for its top quality flour.
Can you tell me about the bottled merchandise on display?
We wanted to offer a line of stellar jarred dips, spreads and pastes that customers could enjoy with our breads at home. We chose Ursini as our purveyor. Ursini’s Pestati di Bacco line was developed to be paired with wines and is extremely interesting. They are based in Abruzzo and like us are dedicated to artisan products.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, we want to deliver an all around positive experience to our clients; high quality products, outstanding and friendly customer service and a warm atmosphere. We are like a big family here and welcome feedback and look forward to getting to know our customers.
You can visit Antico Forno ai Serpenti on the corner of Via Parnisperna and Via dei Serpenti, Monday – Saturday from 7:00 am to 10:00pm and Sunday from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm. Don’t miss a warm cornetto, pizza bianca and la mela in camicia (apple wrapped in flaky pastry dough pictured above) best straight out of the oven!