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.'