Francesco Mazzei

Francesco Mazzei

Francesco Mazzei

Born into a southern Italian family who prized the craft of artisan food, Francesco Mazzei opened restaurants for others around the world before building his own. Famous for accessible dishes, beautifully executed with exquisite flavour, he is a long-time champion of his home region’s specialities.

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.

Finally offered the chance to open his own restaurant at the age of thirty-four, he was able to create the restaurant he really wanted. In 2008, Francesco Mazzei opened L’Anima. His menu featured dishes from Calabria, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia – simple but exceptionally tasty plates which showcased the vegetable, fruit and seafood preparations that are common in those regions. Highlights included Lobster spaghetti, Sicilian rabbit stew and light summery desserts such as Sweet Eve Strawberry soup and Mosto Cotto.

The food at L’Anima was been received with critical acclaim, with Jay Rayner describing it as showing 'a clarity and a simplicity which encourage me to reach for shamefully winsome analogies to the songs of nightingales and glacial mountain air and unsullied virgins perfumed with mint and jasmine… the simple done boisterously well.' The time he spent perfecting his dessert skills was clearly not in vain, with Rayner continuing: 'For finally came dessert, which is where Mazzei's youthful experience in his uncle's gelateria kicks in. This man understands sweet things like nuns understand praying… When food is as good as this, when the sensual and the physical become one, it does indeed transport you to another place.'

A long promoter of Calabrian and southern Italian specialities, Francesco returns home to seek out new products every two months. He worked together on a project with Pizza Express to create their spiciest pizza, The Calabrese, and is proud of the effect this partnership has had on the region. Pizza Express now source their salami from Calabria, which has provided jobs in what is the poorest part of Italy.

Francesco has worked with the Calabrian government, consulting on how to promote their artisan foodstuffs outside of the country. He has been an ambassador for the citrus fruit bergamot and the spicy sausage ‘nduja, both of which are produced in the region, and he is credited with single-handedly bringing the latter – a sweet, spreadable pork sausage, spiked with chilli – to the restaurants and dinner tables of Britain. Since 2007 he has made frequent appearances on the BBC, including Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef, and is a regular at the Taste of London festival. He uses these opportunities to introduce creative applications of Calabrian ingredients to a wider audience, such as his fillets of wild boar marinated in liquorice, bergamot and chilli.

In March 2015, Francesco left L’Anima – now considered one of the capital’s best Italian restaurants – to focus on other projects. He released a cookbook, Mezzogiorno: Francesco Mazzei Recipes from Southern Italy, in the autumn of that year. But he finally returned to the professional kitchen at the end of the year at Sartoria, the only restaurant on Savile Row in Mayfair. The entire interior was given a full refurbishment before Francesco arrived, and he was able to place his unmistakable southern Italian stamp on the menu. Two restaurants followed shortly after – Radici, in Islington, allowed Francesco to return to his Calabrian roots, cooking simple, rustic fare in a more relaxed setting, while Fiume, in Battersea, became another ode to southern Italian cooking.

In April 2023, it was announced that Francesco would leave D&D London, with which he had opened the restaurants, to spend more time travelling and focusing on his charity work. While Radici closed in January 2023, both Sartoria and Fiume remain open. As of August 2023, Francesco had a residency at Villa Corinthia in Malta.