What was your first industry job?
Whilst I was training at culinary school when I was 16 I got a part time job in a local restaurant in the West Midlands where I grew up and I started off as a kitchen assistant and kitchen porter. I remember taking ages to quenelle some horseradish cream for a starter dish, but it was great practice because when I had to take my exam at college I could definitely quenelle at that point! Practice makes perfect and patience...
If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
Something practical and creative! After my professional chef training I took myself to university to study hospitality management and business development because I always knew I wanted to fuse my passion for food and business together, however, throughout the years I discovered that I really do love to work with my hands and create so if I weren't in the kitchens I would love to be a florist or set designer.
What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Jamie Oliver! I love the passion that Jamie has to support those around him its aspiring, whether it be from his school meal campaigns to those first few apprentices from his restaurant Fifteen. He creates and gives opportunity to those who need that first helping hand to get up and create something for themselves and you see that this is driven from his own hard work to be where he is today. I have had to work hard for everything I have achieved, I come from a background where my grandparents and parents came from Sicily and Naples with nothing but a dream in their pocket to create a better life after the war and they gave me the opportunity to create a life for myself with all the love and support I needed. This is what my business, Strazzanti, represents, opportunity and support to those who, like myself, are working hard to continue the traditions of Sicily, its heritage and the land through food and wine.
Pet hate in the kitchen?
Don’t touch my knife! A chef’s knife is so personal it’s our tool for our craft and deserves care and respect, without it we can’t create.
What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
It’s not so odd but when you're dining at a Sicilian supper club and you get asked for butter to go with the bread instead of extra virgin olive oil, you're a bit left lost for words because in Sicily we dip our bread in cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.
Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Simplicity, seasoned with tradition, nostalgia and a touch of modern imaginings.
What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
When someone joined the Sicilian supper club one evening and chose the vegetarian option, they asked for spices to add to the dish like cumin… I wasn’t quite sure how to respond she clearly didn’t like the dish.
Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
My silicone spatula, I have just recently relocated back to Sicily and the first thing I put in my suitcase was this. Whether i’m cooking sweet or savoury I always need my spatula… maybe this is from my pastry chef days.
What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Too difficult to answer, but it would be a home cooked Sicilian-style meal for sure with the whole shabang of antipasti, pasta, secondi with meat, secondi with fish, dolci with a digestivo and some great Sicilian wine.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Me, my two sisters and our nonna from Naples were baking a classic Italian breakfast plum cake. I remember licking the batter from the bowl for the first time and thinking 'wow' (I’m quite certain this was the day I knew I wanted to be a pastry chef without even knowing). There was this famous Italian vanilla dolci aroma pack my nonna would always use in the cake mix and even today when I open that small five gram pack of vanilla aroma I am transported back to that moment with five year old me. We lost nonna shortly after so I hold this memory close to my heart and think of her every time I bake this cake.
Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram - love to visually create and be inspired so this is my go to social media platform.
Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
In London I love to go to Untitled in Dalston, it was down the road from me when I was living in Hackney. The owners are Sicilian British too from Palermo and founders of Bar Termini; they just know how to curate the best evening of cocktails and great food to the highest quality with the friendliest service. What else do you need to be well looked after?
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Give yourself time and patience, our industry is a craft, a vocation and a skill which takes time to curate into the highest quality standard. At the same time remember to look after yourself, your physical health and more importantly your mental health comes first, you can strive for perfection but remember perfection doesn’t exist so be the best version of you and strive for that instead and that’s already a brilliant success. Don’t compare yourself to others, we are all on different paths and sometimes it might take one of us longer to reach the end destination than another, but in the end we all end up where we are supposed to be, focus on you but always be kind to others you don’t know what they are going through and what your support means to them.