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We caught up with Francesco Mazzei, the 43-year old Italian chef who took love and knowledge about his region, Calabria, abroad. He was first a part of the team of the Ciga chain, then the Dorchester, then he opened Santini in Edinburgh and Franco's and L’Anima in London.
He has become a familiar face on the BBC's Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef UK. Now he's taken on another project: Sartoria, Italian for 'tailor's shop.' What name could be lent to a shop that opens its doors on Savile Row, the street that drives the obsession of the most elegant men in the world?
Fine Dining Lovers met with him to hear directly from a Calabrian as to how the region's cuisine is experiencing this moment of grace.
2016 was a golden year for Calabria, which has become known around the world: what happened to the Italian cuisine of this region in recent years?
It is increasingly often that one no longer hears about Italian cuisine in general; a discovery of Roman, Neapolitan, Lombard and Piedmontese cuisine has begun. And Calabria is having its golden moment. Every time that I go back, many companies that I supply tell me that they have hired new employees, and this fills me with satisfaction.
The New York Times has compiled its usual list of places to visit for 2017, and one of the 52 destinations selected is Calabria, the sole Italian location, a destination yet to be discovered. Do you feel that you have contributed to this result?
Yes, I think that I have in part contributed to the renaissance of my region. I've always believed in it. I started years ago by adding 'nduja to my dishes. People like Calabria because it is still wild and unspoiled. Today's tourists almost feel like explorers. It has the sea, the sun, warmth, excellent products and quality restaurants at the right price. The rise began with Pizza Express, who asked for my advice. I created a rectangular pizza and topped it with fior di latte, 'nduja, tomatoes, pickled hot peppers that we locally use to lend acidity and a bunch of watercress. The success was immediate, and many other chefs began to order and incorporate it in their menus with great success; one of which was Jacob Kenedy, chef of the restaurant Bocca di Lupo, near Piccadilly Circus.
The news agency Bloomberg has confirmed that the famous spicy Calabrian sausage has won over the Americans and British. Why do you think this is the case, and what are the consequences?
I first teach my clients how to pronounce it, then I convince them that 'nduja is not just about adding "spiciness," it serves to give complexity and flavour to the dish. It is spreadable, hence it can be split into infinitesimal servings, it is versatile and can be combined with whatever you want. And it's so "Italian style". The consequence is that more and more small family businesses have started to produce it again, lured in by the market. I predict that another great Calabrian ingredient will soon be well known: the Tropea onion.
Where do you get the ingredients for your restaurants?
Where they're good and of quality. If there is no alternative, I import them from Italy, and if I find them to be of the same quality, from the region. For example, I buy cabbage in Kent, where it is fantastic, it doesn't make sense to import meat from Italy, as that bred in Scotland is excellent. I am using and making people familiar with Calabrian bergamot, the Calabrian cedar and Amarelli liquorice, the best in the world since 1731. Foreigners do not just order a plate, they want to know the people, history and geography that are behind a recipe. I also want to promote meats and cheeses. For the Care's event, I prepared a dish of scallops in the shell with green sauce, 'nduja, citron and a smoked puree, all cooked in a Josper charcoal oven. Then, a dish made of black cod with liquorice.
Do you have any new projects in the works for the future?
Yes, a true trattoria, also in London, in Almeida street, in the district of Islington where I live: it will be called Radici, Italian for 'roots'. It will feature Calabrian-Italian dishes with no more than three ingredients, but the best ingredients on the market. They're simple like mother's cooking and intense to advance the Renaissance of Calabria.