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“London is the best place to be a chef"

By Philippa Morton (04 Jul 12)
Tags: best restaurants, london restaurants, italian restaurants, francesco mazzei, angela hartnett, l'anima, murano, giorgio locatelli, st john, fergus henderson, slow food, head chef, organic food, sustainability, modern pantry, anna hansen, alfred prasad, tamarind, best indian

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A thick Italian accent with a deep resonating voice speaks passionately. He has dark hair, eyes and skin, and, he can cook. Oh boy, he can cook! And did I mention he is a wonderful person? A wonderful person who is a strong advocate of organic gardening, good food choices, and sustainability. He has charm, spirituality and is also a family man. He's every woman's dream. He is Francesco Mazzei, head chef at one of London's best Italian restaurants, L'Amina.

Cooking is a creative profession. How do you find new inspiration?

I've been inspired since the age of 8. The change of season - Spring is probably the best - is when the beautiful flowers, fruit and the sun come out. The best thing for me at the moment is to use great British produce in Italian cooking. They're better quality and cheaper in price.

Slow Food is a way to promote good food choices. What advice would you give to parents who are trying to teach their youngsters about healthy eating?

I have 2 beautiful kids. Educate your kids, “This is a pear, this is an avocado". Cook with your kids. I go to Colleges to cook with the students, this is very educational.

Which London restaurants are the best Slow Food restaurants?

There are a lot! St John Bar and Restaurant would be a good one for their great use of British Produce. Fergus Henderson really is a great chef and a great guy.

L'Anima has been a great success and a beautiful restaurant. Any other London recommendations for this year's Olympics?

I'm a big fan of Hakkasan and Bar Boulud as well. These places really offer great standards and fantastic food. The service is spectacular.

What restaurant do you recommend for a cheap night out?

There is a lot in London. Brawn restaurant; Ed Wilson the chef does some fantastic food. Tsuru Japanese restaurant is also very reasonably priced. These are the kind of people who are sensitive to what's going on. The last one I tried was Brasserie Zedel; they had a starter for £3. I was shocked! And in Piccadilly Circus, can you believe that? I don't know how they do it.

How often do you go out for a meal in London nowadays?

(Laughs) To be honest with you, I don't go out very often. I have been out twice in the last few months. I celebrated Mother's Day at Restaurant Locanda Locatelli and Giorgio was cooking. We had truly memorable food and Giorgio [pictured above right with Francesco and Angela Hartnett of Murano] is another supporter of Slow Food.

Your career has taken you to Edinburgh and Bangkok. What keeps you in London?

London is the best place to be a chef. It has all the best chefs in the world. The best of the best. A good chef has to live in London.

There are a lot of people in the food and drink industry who are superb at what they do. Do you know of any ‘unsung heroes' in the business who deserve more credit for what they do?

Alfred Prasad at Tamarind. The food is so different, so delicate. For me, he is the best Indian chef in the world.

How about any women as ‘unsung heroes' in the industry?

Anna Hansen of The Modern Pantry; she does a fantastic job. [The Modern Pantry is also an advocate for Slow Food] She is one of the most talented women chefs we have around these days.

What would the perfect ‘Day in the Life of Francesco Mazzei' be?

Spend time with my kids! Get up in the morning have breakfast with my kids and then go to Church. Then go to the organic markets and buy whatever is available. Then cook with the kids. My daughter she is only 5 and every Sunday she expects me to cook. So we all have lunch together and the afternoon is spent on quality time with the kids.

If there was one thing you could say one thing to the youth of today, what would it be?

Learn how to cook. It's an intelligent thing to do. Food is the future!

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