Head Chef, Cheltenham
Age: 28 years old
Likes: My girlfriend, cinema, and Ferraris (I am Italian)
Dislikes: Queuing (I am Italian)
From Italy to Bella Italia
Month 1 - Kitchen Porter
Month 3 - Kitchen Assistant
Month 12 - Sous Chef
Month 30 - Head Chef
Sometimes changes are only supposed to be temporary. That was certainly what I thought when I came to the UK in the summer of 2013 to study English. I had been working as a waiter in a 5-star hotel in Italy but felt I was missing out on opportunities because I could only hold conversations with the Italian and Spanish guests.
I had an uncle who lived in Cheltenham. I hadn't seen him since I was a teenager but he agreed to put me up for a couple of weeks whist I found a job and somewhere to live. The language course I had booked was set to take 6-months to complete. I only had enough money to last me for a few weeks so finding work was my number one priority.
Luck must have been on my side. The first restaurant I walked into, which happened to be a Bella Italia, had some openings. Even more of a bonus (as I hardly spoke any English at the time) the General Manager was Italian. Luca wasn't confident letting me work front of house until I had completed my course but he had a Kitchen Porter role available. I was ecstatic and we agreed on a test shift later that week.
"It turned out that my passion for cooking at home was directly transferable to the professional kitchen"
I had limited experience in a professional kitchen, but working as a Kitchen Porter allowed me to see the job up close. Something just felt right and I was drawn by the energy in the room. I have always been a passionate home cook but wasn't sure that would qualify me to attempt to work a service.
It turns out that passion is the most important quality in a chef. I experienced a great deal of this watching my colleagues work and I wanted to be part of the team. I asked our Head Chef at the time If I could help out with any shifts. He could see I was serious so he checked the rota and found me the odd hour here and there. Within a month I realised I wanted to become a chef; so I set out to do just that.
Progressing in the kitchen at Bella is not difficult. Hard work and a genuine interest in producing the best food was quickly recognised in my case. Training was provided on the job along with the qualifications I required to work as a professional chef in hospitality.
''Bella Italia's switch to authentic Italian ingredients inspired me''
During my time at Bella Italia I've seen a number of changes that have inspired me. The most personal for me was the move to fresh authentic ingredients (Italian where possible). It happened very quickly and, as an Italian chef, made me proud to be a part of the company.
Frozen pasta is now a thing of the past and many of our core ingredients (including pasta, pesto, cured meats, and gelato) are now imported directly from local family producers in Italy. Every pizza is hand stretched and how well they turn out is now directly down to the skill of the chef at the kitchen pass.
For me cooking is as much a hobby as it is a career. I come up with new dishes at home all the time. Although in a restaurant such as Bella Italia the menu is fairly rigid, the pride me and my team take in cooking the dishes perfectly every time, no matter how many covers we have, keeps the job interesting.
”I aspire to be a Development or Area Support Chef. Bella Italia HR are working with me on my personal journey”
Well four years in the UK and I'm not going anywhere, anytime soon. My girlfriend of two years has a big part to play in that but I'm also happy where I am. I love the UK and feel I'm progressing in life. I've now been Head Chef at Bella Italia Cheltenham for over 12-months and can see my hard work is making a real difference.
Don't get me wrong, there are ups and downs and a few things I would like to change, but I have a dialogue with management and hopefully we can keep driving forward over the coming months. Bella has just launched an internal Facebook network for staff to make suggestions so I'm taking the opportunity to make my voice heard.
I love what I do, but I aspire to become either a Development or Area Support Chef in the future. I'm currently speaking with Bella Italia HR about what my personal journey there would look like and can't wait to see the results. In the meantime, I'll keep cooking in and outside work and hope my food speaks for itself.