Born to be an artist best describes the path young Carlo Rodolfo Gislimberti dreamed and planned, but, with the unexpected passing of his father when he was a teenager, Carlo’s dream of attending architecture school was sidelined and he instead pursued cooking. After extensive training at the Culinary School of Italy and various apprenticeships at renowned restaurants throughout Italy and Europe to hone his skills, Carlo went on to become a chef of international renown.
In 1970 he met Siobhan in England, and they married in 1972. Their sons, Simon and Daniel, were born in 1975.
In 1978 Carlo, Siobhan and the two small boys arrived in America, settling first in Texas and then New Mexico: In 1982, they opened their first restaurant, Il Porcino, in Red River. In 1984 they moved to Taos, where they took over the famed Casa Cordova until 1990 when they opened Villa Fontana.
Carlo brought more than fine northern Italian cuisine to northern New Mexico, he brought a love of the mountains born in the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy.
“In the Dolomites, you are born on skis, so to speak,” Carlo said in a 1999 interview with the late Sangre de Cristo Chronicle newspaper for its Winter Enchantment magazine. “When I go skiing, I love it because it brings me back to a younger age when I was skiing Cortina and other European resorts.”
Many, many people in northern New Mexico benefited from his knowledge of mountain fungi: Carlo always picked wild mushrooms and incorporated them into his cuisine. He spent several months of the year scouring local mountains for delicate chanterelles and boletus he used in dishes like “Chanterelle Sorbet,” “Stuffed Boletus Caps,” and “Crema di Boleti Villa Fontana (cream of wild mushroom soup with fresh rosemary). He loved creating new ways to showcase the mountain delicacies. He also conducted mushroom hunts and cooking classes and hosted the Mycological (mushrooming) Society of New Mexico’s annual banquet.
His talent as a chef also shined and, over the years, the restaurant garnered several prestigious awards, becoming the first 4 Diamond rated restaurant in New Mexico by AAA, and earning a DiRoNA award as one of the top-10 Italian restaurants in America. In 1999, the President of Italy, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro honored Carlo with the title of Cavaliere for his contribution to classical Italian cuisine and art.
In 1992, Carlo experienced his first heart attack. As part of his rehabilitation/therapy he decided to pursue a life-long desire to take up painting. Many of Villa Fontana’s frequent customers were artists and friends of the couple. One such artist, (the late) Rod Goebel, invited Carlo to participate in a class he was teaching. This changed the trajectory of Carlo’s life. What followed were years of study with other, mostly Taos, artists: Ray Vinella, Kevin Macpherson, Don Ward, Walt Gonske, R.C. Gorman and Agnes Martin, to name a few. These artists were all very generous in giving advice ranging from the “business of art” to “plein air” painting, “abstraction” to “studio painting”, painting oils, watercolors, and pastels. They all encouraged Carlo to display his paintings in his restaurant.
Carlo’s love of painting has taken many forms from brush, palette, cork, and finger painting, always with bold colors, creating emotion and passion on the canvas. Carlo had continued to evolve as an artist, and in recent years has hosted shows throughout his native Italy and in New Mexico.
“Painting takes care of my creative and emotional expression,” he told The Chronicle. Golf also became a new passion, though Carlo still enjoyed hitting the slopes with his sons. “I used to take them skiing on my back when they were little.” His other love was always the mountains, his native Dolomites in Italy, the Alps in Europe, the Sangre de Cristos and the Himalayas.
In 2005, Carlo experienced a second heart attack which led to a trip to New Delhi, India, for open-heart surgery. Consequently, the Gislimbertis decided to sell Villa Fontana and move to Santa Fe, where he opened the SanTaos Gallery with his longtime friend Lino Petrusini.
In 2011 he met Sarah Sheer, who became his loving companion and friend. They created a life of joy and happiness together that was obvious for all to see.
Carlo died Aug. 31, 2022 while hunting for mushrooms in the mountains of Santa Fe. He is preceded in death by his parents, Anna and Mario Gislimberti, brothers Franco, and Remo, and sister Elda.
He leaves behind a family that loved him deeply: His two sons Simon and Danny and three amazing grandchildren, Madio, Roman, and Giulia.
His love of life, family, friends, and food combine to make this unique gentleman a legend and will always be remembered with love.
The family requests that donations be made in his honor to Golden Willow Retreat. See https://www.goldenwillowretreat.org/support-golden-willow/
Arrangements by Rivera Family Funeral Home. To share a memory, please visit our website at www.riverafuneralhome.com