"I don't want my staff to suffer the way I did" - Francesco Mazzei on Fiume, sustainability and Brexit

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

"I don't want my staff to suffer the way I did" - Francesco Mazzei on Fiume, sustainability and Brexit
Chef Francesco Mazzei moved from Italy to work at The Dorchester in Mayfair in the early 1990's, and ran L'Anima in the City for six years until 2015. He opens his third Italian restaurant with D&D London, Fiume, at Battersea Power Station today (17 November).

How different is Fiume to your other restaurants with D&D?

Sartoria is top-notch fine dining in the middle of Saville Row, Radici is a neighbourhood trattoria, and Fiume is something in the middle. We’ve got some new dishes from head chef Francesco Chiarelli, plus some from Sartoria and Radici. Francesco's been working with me for 5-6 years and is Calabrese too, so he understands my cooking pretty well.

Battersea Power Station is still under development, do you worry the restaurant will struggle with low footfall?

We believe we’re going to be busy. A lot of residential space in the Power Station is already occupied and two other restaurants are open. It’s not going to be crazy Monday - Wednesday but during the rest of the week a lot of people come to look around. The riverboat has just opened in front of my restaurant too.

Why did you decide to get involved with D&D?

Des [Gunewardena, D&D co-founder] and I had always tried to do something together. When I left L’Anima in 2015 I was planning to leave London for six months to travel the world by myself, but within a week I was already working for D&D.​ Now we’ve opened three restaurants in two years, so it’s going pretty well. Will we open more in the future? God will say.

You’ve worked with Massimo Bottura’s Felix Project​ to fight food waste, do you think the industry needs to do more to tackle the issue?

I’m a very good friend of Massimo and I’m about to do my fourth dinner for The Felix Project in London. We are chefs and I think it’s our mission to do something for people in need when there’s food involved. Big names in the industry must​ try to help.

I come from a poor family and we used to waste nothing. The only time we had meat was on a Sunday, the rest of the week was vegetables, pasta, wild herbs and mushrooms, my dad and grandmother used to forage all the time. That was the food of Mezzogiorno, the southern part of Italy. We had no money, so we had to sustain ourselves with what was available. Now [eating this way] has become a trend, but it was a way of life in those days! If we can keep it going then we’ll all save money and live better.

Fiume-fish-dish
Fiume's menu pays homage to southern Italy

Is food waste something you’re conscious of in your own restaurants?

Absolutely. The first thing you learn at school is not to waste anything, and good chefs don’t. I have strong rules in all my kitchens. When I employ my head chefs, they need to have the right skills and attitude to sustainable food. Nothing gets wasted. The part we don’t use to feed the customers goes to the staff. Instead of throwing the top and the back of the pepper in the bin we use it for my staff meal.

As an Italian chef running restaurants in the UK, how concerned are you about Brexit?

We’re not happy with what’s going on and things are uncertain. We’re suffering as we can’t find staff. We pay good money, but the problem is how much [our staff] pay on rent and travel cards. The UK is expensive compared to the rest of Europe, and now with the problems with the Euro and the Pound it’s even worse.

The guys say, I can make £1,200 a month in London where the cost of living is £1,000, or the same in Milan where costs are £700…so people don’t come to London anymore.

People [are staying] in Italy, there’s better weather, they can put more money aside and stay close to home. Of couse, some will come to the UK to learn English, but they can go to America and do that and earn more. [Brexit] puts London in a bad light. The freedoms, beautiful things like the meritocracy of the UK that everyone fell in love with are not there anymore, so people go explore different cities.

It’s not like the old days when we used to work long hours in the kitchen and be paid whatever and shut up and carry on. Things have changed. Kids now need to be supported, you need train them and pay them well. I don’t want my staff to suffer the way I did when I was training. I want them to have a good life and give their best in the kitchen.

Fiume-dish

How can the industry tackle staff shortages? 

I don’t know to be honest. Trust me it’s very, very difficult to find people who want to stay in London. I wouldn’t think to expand to ten more restaurants with the way the situation is at the moment, that’s for sure.

Sometimes if you don’t have enough staff or the right staff you can’t make your restaurant full because you can’t deliver. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen at my restaurants – and I hope it never will – but you have to be ready for the worst case scenario.

Fiume opens 17 November at Battersea Power Station.

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