As president of the International Tennis Federation, Francesco Ricci Bitti spends much of his time travelling, courting oligarchs to invest in tennis. Wherever he pitches up, however, he opts for simple fare such as that found at Parisian trattoria Convivium, where he goes for his imaginary "last meal".
“This restaurant is close to the hotel I normally stay at when I’m in Paris. I frequent this place because they prepare genuine Sicilian cuisine that’s not overly sophisticated. It’s good food and you can be sure they cook the pasta al dente. The 16th arrondissement is my favourite part of Paris. It’s a beautiful neighbourhood with lots of green. It’s close to the Trocadéro and Roland-Garros, which is perfect as I work in tennis.
My job requires me to travel a lot from my home in London. Recently I’ve been to Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to get them to invest some of their oil wealth into tennis. While I often end up at fancy restaurants on such trips, I avoid haute cuisine and opt for simple dishes. The more authentic and local the better. I was born in Faenza, a town in Emilia-Romagna famous for ceramics, but spent most of my youth in Bologna. I have fond memories of that city. It has a great culinary tradition and is known for its rich pastas. In Italy, we have two types of pasta: pasta povera – simple spaghetti dishes from the south with tomatoes; and pasta ricca – pasta with meat sauces, such as lasagne, or tortellini, which gets served in broth as a first course. Living abroad, I miss the Italian cold cuts and the culture of the swine. There’s the prosciutto and salami, not to mention cotechino – a sausage we eat with lentils at New Year.
I do like to try authentic English food but it’s different from what I’m used to. The English have great vegetables but they don’t cook them properly. Coffee is another thing I’ve had to adapt to. At the canteen in our London office, my Spanish colleague and I like to have a strong espresso after lunch. But instead of buying one, we prefer getting ours from one of those instant coffee machines. It sounds strange but the taste is better, closer to what I grew up with in Italy.
I’m not a big fan of desserts but I do enjoy zuppa inglese – a sort of trifle – and tiramisu. My mother’s tiramisu was made with hard square biscuits, not the delicate ladyfingers they have now. You’d dip them in coffee and lay them on top of each other as if you were building a house. Today’s tiramisu is too soft and creamy. As our association deals with athletes, naturally part of our concern is their nutrition. Tennis players need food that is both energetic and light, two things that don’t often go together. Today you see the top players with dieticians and it’s become almost as important as their training regimen. I think pasta is good for athletes but you have to be careful with the rich sauces. I’m also against the use of supplements because it’s hard to know if they are contaminated.
This idea of a last meal is interesting, apart from the “last” connotation that denotes the end of something. For me, it’s about having a meal with those close to you. I used to live in Milan and have seen Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” several times both before and after restoration. I enjoy the subject of eating simply because it’s something everyone can relate to.
I think food is seen by people today more as a fuel – there’s no enjoyment of the meal. I remember working for Philips in Milan and we had to phone our colleagues in Rome. Their lunch break was three hours long! You had to wait until 4pm to call their office. But that was 30 years ago. Now everything is about the quick lunch. I don’t know if that’s progress. Sure, it’s better for productivity but not for one’s quality of life.”
Located in Paris’s leafy 16th arrondissement, upmarket Convivium was opened in 1996 by Sicilian restaurateur Giulio Lo Presti. A native of Catania, Lo Presti arrived in Paris in 1986 with the aim of bringing authentic Sicilian food to Parisian palates. Working as both chef and owner, his menu features traditional offerings such as pasta alla norma and sarde a beccafico.
Spaghetti with crushed tomatoes and basil
Grilled sea bass with lemon
Affogato al caffè – vanilla ice cream doused with espresso
Pinot Grigio from Pavia, Italy
Moscato di Pantelleria
Francesco Ricci Bitti
Since 1999, Ricci Bitti has served as president of the International Tennis Federation, the game’s governing body. His organisation promotes the development of tennis worldwide via the national federations and oversees major competitions such as the Davis Cup. A competitive tennis player (right-handed) since the age of 14, Ricci Bitti previously worked as a manager for firms including Philips, Olivetti and Telecom Italia. He is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).