Francesco Mazzei never wanted to be a chef. Growing up in Calabria, southwest Italy, he cared more about his football than his food. Having worked in his uncle's ice cream shop from an early age, Francesco had been exposed to the harsh realities of working in a kitchen and was determined to pursue a better life for himself. A chance encounter with a well-known chef, however, led him to reconsider a life in the culinary world. Impressed by his eye for detail, the chef was disappointed to learn of Francesco's ambitions to become a hotel manager, telling him: ‘Shame, you can see you’ve got the touch’. Since then, Francesco has never looked back, forging an impressive and varied career that has culminated in his first book Mezzogiorno: Recipes from Southern Italy.
Francesco has worked in restaurants all over the world, yet it’s the food from his home region of Calabria that he values the most. The book is very much a celebration of how southern Italians approach cooking. In the opening chapter, Francesco explains how the economic hardships faced by the south helped shape a cuisine that shuns waste and uses ingredients thriftily. ‘Cucina povera tradition’ meaning ‘cooking of the poor’, is at the root of southern culture and is embraced throughout the book.