Mimi Thorisson talks champagne, festive songs and Stilton

The food writer and cook talks personal taste

Mimi Thorisson at home in Turin
Mimi Thorisson at home in Turin | Image: Oddur Thorisson

My personal style signifiers are the Italian bracelets and earrings that I find on my travels; the vintage Yves Saint Laurent skirts and dresses I have been collecting since my early 20s; and tailored shirts from Sebastian in Torino. I also have an insatiable need for Falke’s scoop-neck black bodies, which have a dancer feel about them – they create a beautiful silhouette and move effortlessly with the body. Falke Stringbody seamless body, £110; falke.com. Sebastian shirts, from £80; sebastiantorino.com. ysl.com.

The best festive gifts I’ve given are the Caruso dinner jacket in Black Watch tartan and a wheel of Parmesan that I gave my husband, Oddur, last year. He’s a photographer, and he aspired to get hold of a whole wheel for aesthetic reasons as much as culinary ones. We joked that the trick was to find a way to eat all the cheese and still fit into the jacket. carusomenswear.com.

Thorisson’s vintage Celine bag
Thorisson’s vintage Celine bag | Image: Oddur Thorisson

And the best one I’ve received is a 300-piece Richard Ginori porcelain dinnerware collection from 1910 that Oddur gave me. The design, Clara, is very delicate: white with pink flowers and gold. It’s gorgeous, and the ceremony of laying the table always makes me feel that something special is about to happen. Since we’re unlikely to be hosting dinners for 80-plus people any time soon, we’ve divided the pieces between our homes in France and Italy – it creates a nice continuity. richardginori1735.com.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Gustav Klimt. All my adult life I’ve been drawn to his paintings. They’re so vivid and unique. But maybe I don’t need him in my home – I’m happy with my brocante finds: strong women, clad in black, from various eras – they stare at me as I walk past them in the corridor we painted Louvre Red.

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My party shoes are black kitten-heel pumps from Camilla Elphick. They have a criss-cross strap and look really pretty on the foot. Camilla Elphick Lover pumps, £175; camillaelphick.com.

My December playlist would have to include Jamie Cullum, Tony Bennett, Rufus Wainwright and Frank Sinatra. And Last Christmas by Wham! because, let’s be honest, it’s the best Christmas hit ever.

Thorisson in her Turin dining room
Thorisson in her Turin dining room | Image: Oddur Thorisson

The best book I’ve read in the past year is Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse by Andrea di Robilant – an account of a period in Hemingway’s life when he rediscovered Italy and it set him on the path to writing The Old Man and the Sea. It’s a good read for anyone interested in northern Italy, Hemingway or both.

No celebration is complete without Drappier Brut Nature champagne. It has no sulphites added to it and is a bit more interesting than you’d normally expect from a young champagne. And a candlelit room. We always have candles, but during the festive season we triple our efforts. My favourites are from the Danish store Flying Tiger: they come in a jade green that looks beautiful against our blue dining-room walls. Drappier Brut Nature sans soufre, £40.50 for 75cl; thechampagnecompany.com. Candles, from £1; flyingtiger.com.

Caffe Mulassano, Turin
Caffe Mulassano, Turin | Image: Getty Images

In my fridge at this time of year you’ll always find champagne; foie gras; French butter from Bordier; Jura wine – Arbois Vin Jaune Domaine Badoz 2007 – for cooking and drinking; Castelmagno cheese, which is heavenly with homemade tagliolini pasta for late-night feasts; some guanciale [cured pork cheek]; and a decadent truffle wrapped in a moist, white cloth. Then… a couple of bottles of burgundy; birds like quails and pigeon – and herbs to cook them with; freshly made stock, ready to use at any time, and leftover desserts put aside for later. The list is endless. I have more than one fridge by the way. Castelmagno, £14.99 for 200g, vallebona.co.uk. domaine-badoz.fr. lebeurrebordier.com

I have collections of pasta stamps and rotellas [wheels] for carving that make any pasta dish look ceremonial, including some bespoke pasta tools from Romagnoli, which has been carving them since 1918. We also have a small but growing collection of bordeaux wines: we may never drink them, but our grandchildren might, and that’s a nice feeling. And I have a thing for old maps in frames. There are beautiful stores in Turin, such as Il Cartiglio and Libreria Antiquaria Bourlot, selling antique ones. bourlot.it. cartiglio.it. romagnolipastatools.com. 

Alix D Reynis Louis XVI porcelain
Alix D Reynis Louis XVI porcelain | Image: Oddur Thorisson

The last thing I bought and loved was a vintage Celine suede handbag in a beautiful bordeaux shade, with a big buckle – I saw it on a friend’s Instagram and knew it would be the perfect addition to my carefully assembled cast. Vanina From Paris, a curated handbag shopping network on Instagram, tracked one down for me – they can source almost anything. I also love the two beautiful French prints of hand-drawn cups and vases we managed to convince our dear friend Paolo Badesco of the stunning design shop Raw Milano to sell us – against his will. rawmilano.it.@vaninafromparis_.

For the festive season, I’d love the Cady dress from this season’s Prada collection – they make the best little black dresses, and this one makes you feel like a Fellini actress. I’ve just created a second capsule collection, inspired by my wardrobe, with Mirae Paris – it’s very festive, so I’ll be wearing a lot of that too. Also, a large pot of Stilton; I grew up in Hong Kong, so British traditions are very much part of my life – and a trip to London to see a few plays. Mimi x Mirae collection; miraeparis.com. Prada Cady dress, £1,575; prada.com.

Mimi x Mirae Elletra dress, €325, available from November 27
Mimi x Mirae Elletra dress, €325, available from November 27

The festive traditions I look forward to most are having champagne every night in December, and mince pies drowned in cream for breakfast from Christmas Eve till New Year’s Day; watching Agatha Christie films with the whole family and my home-made vanilla chestnut ice cream; and going to the opera with Oddur for a Christmas premiere. Turin has a rather retro opera house designed by the very eccentric Carlo Mollino. While I appreciate the beauty of the Scala, this one is perfect – and we can walk from our home and first have aperitivi at Caffe Mulassano, the birthplace of Tramezzini sandwiches. caffemulassano.com. teatroregio.torino.it.

The last meal that truly impressed me was a long lunch at Buca di Zibello. We are always on a ferocious pilgrimage for the best of everything when it comes to food, but this institution near Parma is everything you could ever hope to find in Emilia Romagna, the mecca of hearty Italian food. A lunch here feels like time travel. The pasticcio di maccheroni (maccheroni with delicious ragu wrapped in a slightly sweet shortcrust pastry and presented like a pie) is my favourite. I asked them to share the recipe for my upcoming Italian cookbook. trattorialabuca.com. Old World Italian will be published by Clarkson Potter in October 2020.

Thorisson’s Romagnoli pasta tools
Thorisson’s Romagnoli pasta tools | Image: Oddur Thorisson

If I had to limit my festive shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose the fine line between the 6th and 7th arrondissements in Paris. Nothing beats the wealth of what this area has to offer, especially at this time of year. I’d start at Petrossian where I’d get my dose of caviar for Christmas. After all these years, the truffles from La Maison du Chocolat are still my favourites, and the packaging doesn’t hurt – I call it the Hermès of chocolate. I’d go to my friend Alix D Reynis’ porcelain and jewellery atelier on Rue Jacob – the most special, beautiful and functional creations I can imagine, and perfect for gifts. And then a trip to Frédéric Malle for myself and my loved ones, and a stop at Buly to fill the house with scents. alixdreynis.com. buly1803.com. fredericmalle.com. lamaisonduchocolat.fr. petrossian.com.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Castelmagno, which sits like a gem on top of the Valle Grana in Piemonte in the southern Cozie Alps. It is truly a wonder to the eye, with a breathtaking, vertiginous view of the entire valley. And to make it even more unforgettable, you can stop at the Rifugio La Valliera and eat the delicious homemade gnocchi with local Castelmagno cheese sauce. desmartin.it.

Hope, 1903, by Klimt
Hope, 1903, by Klimt | Image: Alamy

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is a 1970s Yves Saint Laurent dress I found on eBay. It’s from his Russian collection and I had been eyeing something like it for a while. YSL is, to me, so much more than a brand; it’s an idea of a woman – a woman I wanted to be as a little girl. She has purpose and style, is always in a hurry but also taking her time. 

The beauty and wellbeing staples I’m never without are a few spritzes of Dans Tes Bras from Frédéric Malle; Fabulous Face Oil by Aesop; and Vigor Donna and Red Clover herbal supplements from the Farmacia Regia in Turin. Since I started taking these a year ago I feel like a superwoman. I use Vitalumière make-up and Pink Explosion blush from Chanel. And I love Trinny London’s creamy, powdery eyeshadow in a neutral called Faith – the best eyeshadow I have ever had. Aesop Fabulous Face Oil, £40 for 25ml; aesop.com. Chanel Vitalumière Satin Fluid make-up, £40, and Joues Contrasts powder blush, £35; chanel.com. Dans Tes Bras by Maurice Roucel, £123 for 50ml; fredericmalle.co.uk. Herbal supplements, regiafarmaciatorino.com. Trinny London Eye2Eye shade, £18; trinnylondon.com.

Pasticcio di maccheroni at Buca di Zibello
Pasticcio di maccheroni at Buca di Zibello | Image: Oddur Thorisson

The best souvenir I’ve brought home is big clusters of incredibly sweet-tasting Vesuvio piennolo tomatoes from Napoli, where they are hung everywhere to chase evil spirits away. They are too thick-skinned to eat, but they can last for months and make the most perfect tomato sauces in the world.

The gadget I couldn’t do without is my iPhone. Like everyone else, I get a lot of my information, news and entertainment through this little gadget. And I’m fine with that. iPhone 11, from £529 with trade-in; apple.com.

Drappier Brut Nature sans soufre, £40.50 for 75cl
Drappier Brut Nature sans soufre, £40.50 for 75cl

My style icon is the fictional character Laura Mars. Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars is so very stylish, chic and sexy in the most glorious way: only the ‘70s could create a character like that. 

A recent “find” is a shirtmaker in Napoli called Camiceria Piccolo. They’re a small business and, as with all the good things in this country, it’s a family affair. Our eldest children begged us for a shirt each and after careful deliberation we agreed. It’s nice for them to understand the value of well-made things, and later they can pass them onto their younger siblings, which is how we like to do it – but it made choosing the monogram a bit confusing. From €160; camiceriapiccolo.com

Last Christmas by Wham!
Last Christmas by Wham!

If I didn’t live in Medoc and Turin, it would have to be Paris. It’s my old hometown, and I expect it’s where I will end up. I still love Café de Flore, having a couscous with my friends at Chez Omar in the Marais. Then hopping into the booksellers Galignani hoping to catch a glimpse of Karl Lagerfeld’s ghost. It was a moment of enormous pride for me when they started selling my cookbooks. cafedeflore.fr. Chez Omar, +339-8639 9114. galignani.com.

The podcast I’m listening to is Joe Campanale’s In the Drink. He’s such a nice, passionate guy and has particularly special knowledge of natural wines, which is something I’d love to learn more about.

One of Thorisson’s Richard Ginori dinner plates
One of Thorisson’s Richard Ginori dinner plates | Image: Oddur Thorisson

The last albums I downloaded were Negro Swan by Blood Orange – I love the song Dagenham Dream – and I Am Easy to Find by The National.

A winter indulgence I would never forgo is the nuvola pandoro from Pasticceria Ghigo in Turin. The whole city anxiously waits for the nuvola to come out – it’s only available in the winter months, and a queue forms at 7am each day. Pandoro is more brioche-like than panettone and has no raisins or candied fruit – this one is the best in the world, with enough butter to satisfy an army. pasticceriaghigo.it.

Autumn in Venice by Andrea di Robilant
Autumn in Venice by Andrea di Robilant

My favourite room in my house is my bedroom. People might think, because of what I do, that my preferred room would be the kitchen and, yes, it’s my second favourite, but the bedroom has my heart. I love staying in bed, reading, watching a movie, lounging, having a late breakfast that somebody else prepared. My idea of nirvana is an early night in bed, cold beer, a really good Indian takeaway and a great movie. 

My beauty guru is my hairdresser, Luisaefranchino, in Turin. They colour my hair perfectly. Everything else I do myself; I don’t have the time to go to any other appointments these days, but I run five kilometres six times a week. 16luisaefranchino.it.

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If I weren’t doing what I do, I might have been a stage actress in some of the plays I loved as a girl – maybe Chekhov, Henry Gibson, even Harold Pinter.

An object I would never part with is impossible to imagine – as much as I love beautiful things. I feel I’ve had several different lives and I never look back. Besides, the beautiful things in your life stay with you; I cherish memories most of all.

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