Calabrian born Francesco Mazzei was raised with a passion for food and since completing college and moving to Rome in 1992, he has travelled far and wide, working alongside a number of renowned chefs in a selection of award-winning restaurants.
The Dorchester in Mayfair, the Michelin-starred Eden Terazza in Rome, Hakkasan in Istanbul and Miami, and the Santini Restaurants in London, Edinburgh and Milan are just some of the celebrated places Mazzei has contributed to over the years before opening his first restaurant in 2008.
L’Anima was open from 2008 to 2015 and had a menu inspired by traditional cooking from Calabria, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. He went on to release his first cookbook Mezzogiorno: Francesco Mazzei Recipes from Southern Italy and became a regular feature on BBC shows including Saturday Kitchen, MasterChef, The James Martin Show and on the Italian edition of Hell’s Kitchen with Carlo Cracco.
Mazzei opened Southern Italian restaurants Radici in Islington and Fiume in Battersea in 2017. We talk to the chef about all things food including his love for olive oil and polenta.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
My entire family inspired me to become a chef. I love cooking for them and eating together as a family.
I was often found in the kitchen baking bread and making pasta with my nonna and mamma and I had my first taste of the professional kitchen working in my uncle’s Gelateria where I had mastered Italian cakes and gelato by the age of nine.
What’s your signature dish?
One of my signature dishes I make is liquorice black cod, which is on my menu at Sartoria. The recipe is made with peas, broad beans and griotte onions, served up alongside the black cod.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
When crafting my menus, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is seasonality. I love to cook with seasonal ingredients as they are fresh and better for the environment.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
My personal preferences are always reflected in my menu, but I also always ensure there is something on the menu for everyone. Of course, I love to share my favourites with my customers but it’s important to have a variety of items on the menu so people feel like there is always something they are excited to order.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
Spring is my favourite time of year. Not only do you see flowers start to blossom across the city but there are also lots of new vegetables in season that I always look forward to cooking with.
What is your favourite ingredient?
My absolute favourite ingredient to cook with is extra virgin olive oil, you can always find it in my kitchen. Also, I love cooking with seasonal ingredients.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
Hard to say, I really can’t think of anything else I would want to be other than a chef. If I did have to be something else though, I hope I would be helping those in need.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
My kids love freshly made south Italian pasta so it would have to be cavatelli and welsh lamb ragu.
When are you happiest?
Simple, I am happiest when my family and my team are happy!
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
When I am not in the kitchen you can most likely find me driving my Maserati across the English countryside.
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
Polenta, I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am currently working with Polenta Valsugana on a number of Italian recipes and as Polenta is so versatile, I have been able to create six different recipes that vary from warm hearty dishes, to more light and colourful salads and desserts.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
My favourite place to dine is Hakkassan, I’ve been in love with that place since I worked there as a chef consultant. The food there is still as incredible as it was when I worked there.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
As you can imagine, it has been a very difficult year. The hospitality industry has been badly affected. We are grateful for the furlough scheme, but they did not take into consideration that a lot of our staff’s salaries are covered by Tronc (service charge) which meant they have been hit harder than anyone.
We’ve adapted where possible, offering delivery and meal kits for customers at home, and we will continue to offer delivery from Radici.