Italian Prisoners Open Gourmet Restaurant

There’s more off-balance in Tuscany than that infamous tower, and I’ve got the story to prove it.

A couple of years ago, I watched Dateline or 20/20 or one of my other favorite American news programs in shock. Every year Fortezza Medicea Jail in Volterra, near Pisa, opens their doors for a few nights and doubles as a gourmet restaurant. The event started in 2006 as a fundraiser and as an effort to teach the inmates cooking and waiting skills, so they can find jobs when they are released.

Hmmm …

Well, it opened again two months ago and apparently is booked solid. The restaurant, where food is prepared and served by murderers, robbers and mafiosi, is so popular, the Italian prison department is considering trying it in other jails throughout the country.

The inmates love it. It offers a nice change from the monotonous day-to-day of being a prisoner, they get to interact with the public, and they get to experience the glamorous job of working in a gourmet restaurant.

Would you tell the chef his pasta is too salty?

Seriously. I am speechless. This doesn’t happen to me often, enjoy.

But first tell me. What do you think about this?

23 Responses
  1. joanne at frutto della passione

    Half of me thinks – wow what a creative way to rehabiltate a crimminal – the other more cynical side of me is thinking – oh the mafia bosses have a way to get messages to their henchmen.
    I don’t know if I would eat there, mostly because there are so many other places that I would choose first.

  2. I don’t think it’s a bad idea. At least they’re doing something creative instead of making licence plates. And it just might give them the incentive to do something positive when they get out. And if I ever ate there, I would definitely NOT tell the chef his pasta is too salty 😉

  3. Probably wise, Linda! lol I wouldn’t send it back, either.

    Joanne – I agree with you. They say there are strict rules regarding who gets a reservation, but still… I also find it distasteful with so many honest Italians looking for work that criminals get to have these really fulfilling jobs. Many people work YEARS to be a gourmet chef. Something isn’t fair about that.

  4. I think it’s a great idea. The inmates learn valuable skills, there is a fund raising aspect so that helps and I assume you eat some decent food.

    With the comment above, perhaps they turned to crime because of a lack of opportunity. Now they have that opportunity, they can embrace it and stay clean.

  5. It’s still going to be hard for any criminals (esp. of serious crimes) to get a job on the “outside” so I don’t think they are going to be taking any jobs “away” from anyone.

    I think it could be a way for these guys to become productive members of society and not end up back in prison.

  6. I like the idea, I think. Nothing like a good solid opinion! Anytime you can offer the opportunity for criminals to know they have options and there is a possibility of better things to come, don’t we all win?

  7. Maybe I am more cynical here, Running, but I don’t think these guys turned to crime because they couldn’t find a job. It is more likely because of some of them, especially the mafiosi, that other good people lost jobs because of them.

    NYC, I actually meant taking jobs “from” others because people are drawn to this restaurant and therefore spending their money there instead of other places. I guess I am not as nice as the rest of you guys. 🙂 I think it sounds like fun, and well, prison shouldn’t be fun.

  8. 🙂 GOOD opinion, Jan. Again, I don’t think I am as nice as you all. I’m not normally of the “lock the door and throw away the key” mentality, but this doesn’t sit well with me.

  9. I’m always for any kind of training in prison; we can’t expect prisoners to come out and become productive members of society if they’re just forgotten about/mistreated/ignored for X number of years while they’re on the inside. I think some people who think prisoners live well tend to underestimate just how much punishment simply the loss of freedom is–and how difficult it is for them to find legitimate work once they’re released, particularly if they had no skills going in (probably led to committing crime) and then didn’t learn anything useful in prison…in that case, they come out and are in the same boat as before only less desirable as an employees because now in addition to no marketable skills, they have criminal records *and* are older.

    Incidentally, I know that in lower security prisons (at least) in Italy, inmates can cook their own food *in their cells* and also wear their own clothes–VERY different from in America. This idea for rehabilitation in Italy, then, really doesn’t surprise me especially in light of Italians’ relationship with their food 😉

  10. Yep, I am definitely the odd one out on this. Oh, well… I think maybe our idea of who these prisoners are is what is effecting our opinions. Mafia people who are in jail didn’t commit crimes because they had no other choice, but I won’t go on. I dont want to be argumentative. 🙂

    Very funny that they can cook their own food in lower security prisons. I had no idea!

  11. Well Cherrye, you might also consider that a life in organized crime really isn’t a much choice for a lot of people–a lot of them are literally famiglia 😉 Some grow up to be doctors and lawyers but that doesn’t mean they aren’t connected….

    I thought it was hilarious when P told me about the in-cell cooking here. They do seem to pack them in though, more to a cell than we do in the States for the most part.

  12. I think overall it’s probably a good idea. Keeping those criminals busy doing stuff is good…although I’m not sure I’d want personal contact. Totally weird, I have to admit. Maybe they should go back to making license plates or something?

  13. Carole DeSimone

    You’re not alone Cherrye. I think it’s giving the inmates a false sense that society will accept them with open arms when they get out of prison.
    I don’t know, I have mixed feelings about the idea.

  14. Sally


    It is always everyone’s hope that someone can turn their life around. I don’t know what the recidivism (sp?, too lazy to look it up) rate is in Italy, but I don’t think it is that good here, particularly because so many crimes are related to drug use. But, I think that most of the people who are hopeful for criminals to turn their lives around have not been victims of or related to victims of crime. I’m curious now, what are most of the criminals in for? Violent crimes against women or murder? Or, are they robbery related?

  15. Sally

    My sister just told me about an elderly American couple being bought and served some drugged cappuccino so they could be robbed and the elderly man was hit by a train because he was drugged? She said it was in Rome…

  16. Rachele

    I am all for creative and giving second chances….but honestly, when I first read about it my first thoughts were….SCARED, uncomfortale…I guess I am just so used to the thoughts that most Americans have growing up of inmates….dangerous. But living in Roma the past few years has made me feel more safe. Well, definately more safe than walking the south side of chicago at 6pm.

  17. j

    It’s a win/win/win so what’s the problem? These aren’t animals they are people who are expected to return to society and interact civilly in society. They like it, the jail makes money, and the people who eat there like it. I would go eat there.

  18. Michelle, I’m not surprised they pack them in – look at the hospitals! 🙂

    It is strange, Rhea. I agree.

    Carole – I hear you. I understand a lot of what the others are saying, but … I don’t know.

    Sally – I agree that probably most people haven’t been directly affected. I certainly couldn’t say how I’d feel if a friend or relative was victimized. They are in for murder (the piano player is serving life for murder), mafia-related crimes, and robbery.

    Rachele and Sally – I am glad you feel safe in Rome, Rachele. I’ve always felt safe in Italy, as well. Yes, Sally, the incident you mentioned did happen in Rome. VERY sad, indeed.

    J – Some of the criminals won’t return to society, as they are in for life. I think overall my distaste for the program comes from the overwhelming shortage of jobs available to honest people in Italy, and these jobs are good (fun) jobs. It doesn’t seem fair to me that honest Italians can’t find work, even after spending years at university, but criminals can. This one restaurant might not affect other establishments, but the prison system is considering doing this throughout the country. The novelty of eating at a restaurant inside a prison is appealing (I get that!) and eventually honest establishments will suffer by lost business.

  19. All I have to say is this: If you meet an Italian man who is not only gorgeous but also a magician in the kitchen – RUN! 🙂

    I don’t know. I don’t think I would eat there.

  20. Nope, not the odd one out Cherrye! I think it is great that they get training, but I don’t think I would dine there 🙁 They could still get said training by cooking dinner at the wardens home or the prison guards home…couldn’t they???

  21. What a great story!

    I agree with the others here that this is not a bad thing to do, but I wonder how many secret messages exchange hands on restaurant nights…

    And I’m sure there will be more than a few ‘family’ members tucking in to pasta in the slammer!

    Good stuff,


  22. Annika – LOL…many times over!

    That they could, Robin. I agree.

    Thanks, Alex. Glad you liked it.

    They are mom, but don’t worry. This place is faaaaar from me. 😉

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