Born in the small town of Pegognaga in the northeastern Italian province of Mantua, Davide Giova fondly remembers a childhood spent in the kitchen with the matriarchs of the family where baking pastries and cakes took center stage: “My mom used to make a wonderful Meringata with meringue, whipped cream, and zabaglione,” he raves. “I just had to learn to make it.” The women taught Giova all the family heirloom recipes that had been passed down from generation to generation, giving him the foundation for his professional career.
At age 14 he enrolled in the local Santa Paola Hospitality School to study culinary arts.
Outside of the classrooms, Giova worked at a small pastry shop in his village where he was exposed to the traditional Italian pasticcerie and regional specialties, including Sbrisolona, a cornmeal, butter, and almond cake he features at Valentino.
After his graduation in 1996, Davide took a job as pastry assistant at San Benedetto Pasticceria. He found his first mentor in Guido Azzoni, whose enthusiasm for baking inspired Giova. He carefully studied chef Azzoni’s technique, learning the art of baking delicious petit fours, the traditional Panettone, and the town specialty Anello di Monaco, a chestnut and walnut-filled brioche.
After three years at the pasticceria Davide left Mantua in 1998 to become pastry chef at the 4-star Grand Hotel Don Juan in Abruzzo. The seasonal post on Italy’s eastern coast allowed him to work in a large hotel with a demanding pace, requiring production of breakfast, lunch and dinner sweets for the 148-room property.
At the end of the summer season, he moved to St. Moritz, Switzerland to work at the resort’s 5-star Badrutt’s Palace Hotel running its three different restaurants: the fine dining room, a casual pizzeria, and a lounge, where over 400 guests were served daily.
Giova returned to Italy in 1999, working as the pastry chef at Gallia Palace Hotel, a 4-star Relais & Chateaux property in Tuscany. Famous for their exquisite Saturday buffet and dishes that utilized seasonal regional produce and fine meats, fresh fish from the Mediterranean and exceptional desserts, Davide’s creations centered on traditional Italian sweets. The Gallia also served as a showcase for his talent in creating extraordinary sugar sculpture, fabricating elaborate designs requiring several days of production.
Giova was 23 when he arrived at the 2-star Michelin Al Bersagliere to work with renowned chef Massimo Ferrari in Mantua. Ferrari, who remains Giova’s primary influence, taught him the intrinsic relationship between a pastry’s visual appeal and its palatability.
In 2002, when Ferrari decided to open a new restaurant in Chicago, he invited his pastry chef to join him. The venture didn’t turn out as planned, and Giova headed to Los Angeles to visit a friend who was working at the world famous restaurant, Valentino. Valentino soon became his new culinary home; the friend became more than a friend – she became his wife.
With an exacting eye for promising young artists, owner Piero Selvaggio easily recognized Davide’s gifts and classic style of pastry as a match for Valentino’s dedication to authentic Italian cuisine. “Davide’s exquisite Sicilian desserts remind me of home,” says Selvaggio, citing his personal favorites, Cannoli, a crispy pastry shell flavored with Marsala and filled with ricotta, and Cassata, a sponge cake layered with ricotta, candied fruit and grated chocolate.
Giova is responsible for developing Valentino’s ever-evolving pastry menu, a reflection of the traditions of Italy as well as his own experiences. Sbrisolona is a signature pastry from his hometown of Mantua and a delicious rice pudding, or Tortino di Riso, is homage to the one he learned to make from chef Ferrari. “I want customers to appreciate special Italian flavors like pistachios, candied fruit, and balsamico. And I always want my desserts to be the perfect ending to a wonderful true Italian meal and the icing on the cake,” says chef Giova, with a smile.