Cooking has always been part of Francesco Mazzei’s life, coming from a family in Italy’s southern region of Calabria. They made their own olive oil, bread and salami – the latter right down to raising and killing the pigs. His mother, 'a great cook' according to Francesco, had a strong influence on the chef.
From the age of eight, he worked in his uncle’s gelateria, 'this beautiful massive ice cream shop', spurred on by the desire for expensive Levis and Nike shoes that his family could not afford. He told us: 'I went to him and said I want a job because I need to buy these things. He said ‘OK, you start tomorrow at eight’. He was joking, but the day after I was there at eight, and I started making ice cream. The real ice cream. The real gelato. We had one ice cream machine, and we didn’t even have the pasteuriser for the milk. Unbelievable. But it was really pure. The best thing was the respect for the food, not to throw anything away.' One day, a famous local chef, Angelo Sabetta, came in and ordered an ice cream. He carefully prepared one of his mangia bevi sundaes for him, which so impressed the chef he encouraged him to cook: 'that was the start of an adventure.'
Catering college soon followed, then at only eighteen years old Francesco got a job at a fish restaurant, established together with the college’s president. A change of scene saw him move to Rome in 1992, where he joined The Grand Hotel. Inspired by the international environment he found there, he left to learn English and ended up in London, landing a job at The Dorchester in Mayfair working under the respected Willi Elsener and Henry Brosi, an experience he describes as 'a real education for me'. Following The Dorchester, he returned to Rome, taking up a position at the Michelin-starred Eden Terrazza.
Since then, his professional travels have included opening the Santini restaurants in Edinburgh and Milan and the Royal Sporting Club in Bangkok, as well as joining restaurateur Alan Yau as he opened a series of venues in the United States, Mumbai and across the UK. Back in London, he has worked as Yau’s head chef, in his Italian restaurant Anda in Marylebone and has consulted on the pastry sections of both Hakkasan and Yauatcha. In 2005 he opened Franco’s on Jermyn Street for the Hambro family, followed by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King’s St. Alban in 2006, where he credits the pair with teaching him the 'commerce behind cooking'. Over the course of his working career, Francesco has worked repeatedly with long-time mentor Yau – who is now the brains behind Sake No Hana, Hakkasan and the original blueprint for Wagamama.