How I started:
I started working in a restaurant in my village of Savoia di Lucania in Italy called Il Boschetto when I was 13 years old. I worked there for two summers and weekends while I was at school. Then when I was 15 I went about 600kms away to work in a restaurant on the Adriatic coast and did summers there for five years. Even with my military service, I worked as a waiter at the centre of aviation in Rome. Then, after my military service I went back to where I’d worked on the coast and got a job as a chef de partie. I decided it would be a good idea to learn to cook, but I realised that front-of-house was where I wanted to be.
While I was working on the Adriatic coast I bought a car, but after three weeks it was stolen. I had no insurance and had used most of my money to buy it, so at that point I decided to go to England and invest in myself. I thought that no-one could steal my knowledge and experiences from me.
When I arrived in England I was given a job front-of-house at Hush in Mayfair and for the first year I didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t understand anything. However, the manager was Italian and I’d been a waiter for a long time - there are a lot of things you do by instinct – so it was ok, but I decided it was best to go to English school and learn the language properly, so I did a few hours five days a week at school.
How I moved up the ranks:
When I was at Hush I did the basic WSET course in wine, then after a year I moved to Harvey Nichol’s Fifth Floor Restaurant as a commis sommelier where I did the intermediate course. I didn’t really want to be in a restaurant within a store, but they had a great wine list and I knew I could learn a lot. After that I went to Windows at the Hilton on Park Lane as assistant head sommelier until it closed for refurbishment.
While Windows was closed I got some work experience in Cognacs and cigars with my friend who worked at the Lanesborough’s Library Bar. Then, I went back to Windows when the Galvins took it over and moved up very quickly: Within three months I was junior assistant restaurant manager and within a year I was restaurant manager.
In September 2010 I took on the job of restaurant and bar manager at Jumeirah Carlton. At Galvin at Windows I’d helped the bar manager out and I was ready to take on more responsibilities and I’d got my management leadership degree that same month, so when the opportunity came up I took it.
My biggest achievement:
Winning Restaurant Manager of the Year was really something I wanted. Last year I was a runner up and this year I went in and really did my best. I was really proud as I’d come to London only seven and a half years ago and I didn’t speak any English. I didn’t do it on my own though, I was helped by the people I work with who have been great in supporting me.
The most important thing I’ve learnt:
Continuing to study while you work is very, very important. A lot of people feel they’ve done their training when they start work and they don’t need to do any more, but there are always new things to learn and new ways to approach things in your job.
But while having knowledge of food and beverage is important, the most important thing I’ve learnt is that you need to love this job and your guests. Hospitality is not about serving people, it’s about giving them an experience that they will remember.
On raising the profile of service:
Chefs get all the glory, but I think that’s partly due to the media. Young people see TV programmes about chefs and see how they can make a lot of money and become rich, but that’s not the reality for most.
Chefs make something that is tangible whereas what front-of-house does is not so tangible, it’s about an experience, about giving people memories. I think, even if you have a dish from the best chef in the world, but it’s presented to you by bad front-of-house, the overall experience will not be good.
People working front-of-house need to be shouting about how great it is and what good we do, but we need help from the media too.