Courage, creativity, and community. These are three words we’ve heard a lot in the past year. We’ll all have stories to tell on how we managed and how our lives changed. Maybe in some ways, even for the better, when it’s all said and done.
I’d like to share with you one story of the Boldrini family of Yountville.
Fourteen years ago, Massi and Jen Boldrini had just finished remodeling their first home, located in Browns Valley. They had relocated from Sausalito to Napa Valley because the landscape reminded them of Emilia Romagna, the region of northern Italy that was home to Massi Boldrini.
After spending a year searching for the right restaurant space in the valley (not an easy task), they settled on an older brick building in Berkeley, an hour away. The building had “good bones” according to Massi, and this would give them a solid start.
Let’s go back another few years to 2001, when Massi first met Jen. After finishing a gig at Vincenti restaurant in Los Angeles, Massi was due to return to Italy in six days, but in came Jen, who happened to be visiting in L.A. from her home in San Francisco. Only one day after meeting Massi, Jen told a friend that this was the guy she would marry.
Massi had plans to move to Japan, where he’d been asked to be the opening chef for a new regional Italian restaurant. This was another step towards the goal of owning his own restaurant one day. Jen, however, was correct. Massi ended up moving to San Francisco instead.
Massi’s dream of owning his own restaurant still happened, however. The couple opened Riva Cucina in Berkeley in 2007. Riva shared the classic cuisine of Emilia Romagna, with dishes featuring authentic Aceto Balsamico, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh hand-made pastas as well as sustainably procured ingredients from local Bay Area farms and waters.
They garnered raved reviews and purchased an old Chris Craft boat rather than commute from Napa to on the freeway. They also became parents to Giula and Luca. Asked why the family didn’t simply move closer to Riva, they always replied, “We just couldn’t leave Napa. We love it, and the friends we’ve made there, too much.”
Their love of Napa was put to the test in 2017 when the family lost their home in the Atlas Fire. “The outpouring of love and support from our community was simply overwhelming,” they said. “It made our roots here grow even deeper.”
The Boldrinis moved from one rental to another, until they finally found a home of their own in February 2020. Two weeks later, Riva was shut down due to the pandemic.
The forced closure allowed the Boldrinis to gather around their new kitchen counter together every night as a family, a luxury they’d never had before. They made fresh pasta, sauces, pizzas and desserts together. They planted a vegetable garden, fruit trees and went for bike rides and walks. “We just didn’t know what we were missing as a family all these years,” Jen said. “This truly was such a gift for us.”
During the temporary closure of their restaurant, they decided to create new at-home offerings that would allow more time for their family to spend together, even after the pandemic was over. Massi developed meals that would come ready to eat, or easily heated.
Just prior to reopening Riva, the Hennessy Fire broke out. Giulia and Luca, remembering how they felt when they lost all their treasures to a fire, asked if they could host a bake sale to raise money for the kids who had lost their toys. They remembered a man who had lost his home in San Diego 10 years prior, a virtual stranger who had given the Boldrini kids gift cards, along with words of encouragement, that they would feel better one day.
The bake sale idea got Jen and Massi thinking. Why not add pasta onto the cookie sales to raise more funds? Close friends and neighbors, who were also Atlas Fire transplants in Yountville, introduced the couple to Vice Mayor Kerri Dorman, to see if the fundraiser could be held at the Yountville Community Center; Dorman helped make it happen. With the help of volunteers, they raised more than $20,000.
The kid’s successful fundraiser gave Jen and Massi the idea to create fresh pasta kits. It also gave Giulia and Luca the opportunity to pay forward the kindness showed to them by dropping gift cards off to Vichy Elementary and Vintage High School so that “kids could replace their toys.” The remaining proceeds were donated to additional fire survivors and the Napa Valley Community Foundation.
Having endured and reinvented themselves, they take the time to sit with fire victims and offer moral support and encouragement when it’s most needed.
Sharing at home offerings
While Massi and Jen wait to reopen Riva Cucina, when Berkeley restrictions are lifted, they are focused on developing their new at-home offerings in Napa.
While Massi and Jen have been catering in Napa since 2014 and had held pop-ups at the Kitchen Collective prior to COVID, they wanted to find a way to bring their food more directly to their community.
Enter the “pop-ups” at Kitchen Collective and the River Terrace Inn events kitchen.
For now, Napa locals can pick up Riva’s fresh pasta kits, oven-ready braised meats and lasagna, soups, rosemary-infused extra virgin olive oil, desserts, bottled cocktails, and wine (alcohol is available for delivery only) via drive-thru pickup at the River Terrace Inn on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. (preorder by the previous Wednesday night) or have their food delivered within Yountville on Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.(preorder by the previous Monday night).
Riva Cucina is about to launch a fresh pasta subscription service that will be delivered to Bay Area and Napa Valley doors and shipped nationwide. Subscribers may choose to add-on a featured Napa Valley wine each month with their pasta service. The Boldrinis will host a monthly virtual dinner party with their local winemaking friends, tasting and cooking together. “We can’t wait to share the best of home—both Emilia Romagna and the Napa Valley, with our members,” Massi said.
What the Baldrinis have loved most about Riva has been the time and space it provided family and friends to gather and spend time connecting. Their hope is that their ready to prepare meals will offer the same gift of togetherness, only now in the comfort of one’s own home. They’ve taken care of the shopping and preparations so families can gather together around the table with good food, drinks and most importantly, one another.
Hopefully, this community story will spark your creativity and reinforce your courage during these disquieting times.
Learn more and place orders at rivacucina.com.
And mangia bene ala Boldrini.
2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Bosc pears
Peel pears and cut them in half, removing seeds (or keep them whole, if you prefer) Pierce 1 clove in each pear half or two cloves in each full pear
Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for 45 minutes. Remove pears to let cool
Continue to cook wine for an additional 45 minutes uncovered to create a reduction that can be drizzled on the cheese, if desired.
Slice pears 1/2 inch from top to fan out slices or serve the pear whole.
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