Italian gourmet lockdown

In what might be Italy's most exclusive restaurant, so understandably security is tight.

by: Marie-Louise Gumuchian | 04 Aug 2008

At the candlelit tables inside the Fortezza Medicea top-security prison, the meal itself is eaten with plastic cutlery.

On reservation, guests are subjected to a background check. They are admitted in groups, their mobile phones and bags confiscated, and then submitted to metal detector tests.

"The standard of the food is fantastic &ndash the atmosphere, the people, and the place is incredible," said diner Sharon Kennedy, a resident of Volterra.

The inmates at the jail in the picturesque Tuscan town have swapped their slacks for shirts and bow ties for a night. They are cooking up a sumptuous meal for curious diners who want to sample a taste of prison life.

Part of a project raising money for charity, the aim is also to teach cooking and waiting skills that could help the prisoners find work when they're released.

The scheme, for several nights a year turning the prison into a restaurant, began in 2006. Guests reserve a table for the meal priced at €35 a head through a local tourism agency.

Surrounded by watch towers and security devices, the waiters smile and joke with guests, who number about 100, as they serve tuna tartare in citrus fruit rinds, pate with sweet wine and couscous with fish. Also on the menu: a tomato puree and carpaccio with salad leaves and parmesan.

The prison dinners are one of several initiatives in Italy directed at teaching inmates job skills. Women in Milan's San Vittore jail are learning tailoring skills, in a similar bid to help rehabilitate them after their jail term.

The dinners have been very successful and tables are booked up well in advance.

The 30-strong team of cooks, kitchen hands, waiters and sommeliers has been carefully selected.

There are 150 prisoners at Fortezza Medicea, and those in for crimes linked to Mafia, drug-trafficking and kidnapping do not participate.

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