How We Met: Giorgio Locatelli & Federico Sali

'We both ride, although my wife doesn't let me race any more. Now we scoot around like idiots'
  • @R_Gonsalves

Giorgio Locatelli, 47, is chef patron of Michelin-starred London restaurant Locanda Locatelli and Ronda Locatelli in Dubai. He has worked in the industry for more than 20 years: cooking, consulting, presenting two TV series and publishing two cookbooks. He has two children and lives with his wife and business partner in north London.

In the space of two days Federico met two people – one was me, the other is now his wife. So in a couple of days he'd sorted the whole thing, done. Now he has his own restaurant and a baby.

When Federico first came to England he was working at a restaurant in the countryside. He'd heard what we were doing at Zafferano [which Locatelli opened in 1994], which was very edgy and getting a lot of press. He and his brother Max saw it and said, "This is where we want to be."

He started as a commis [entry-level chef] but had to learn English. He'd been working in a French kitchen, which was a disaster. We don't want an Italian chef speaking French – we don't want anybody to speak French, not even the French!

He was working in our little pasta room when I first met him in person. The other day, we were talking about that little room and the guys who've worked for me over the past 20 years. A lot of today's big names started in that room – Angela Hartnett was in there for months.

After about a year-and-a-half I decided to leave Zafferano, and I had to decide who to take with me. Federico hadn't gone through all the ranks, but I knew he was sous-chef material. For 18 months we didn't really work: we did the TV programme Pure Italian and just went around on our motorbikes. We both ride, although my wife doesn't let me race any more. Now we have scooters, and scoot around like idiots.

We then set up Locanda, where we have always had the idea of a family, of equality. We work together, we eat together. When Federico was in Dubai setting up the second Locanda, we were fighting a lot, much more than in usual daily life. He was down there for six months doing all the work and suddenly I'd turn up and they'd roll out the red carpet and everybody was, "Giorgio, Giorgio." He found it frustrating, but it strengthened our relationship.

Three years ago Fed needed a break and went off for six months to South America. We didn't know if he was coming back, but were ready to accept any outcome. I already knew the answer, but when he came back I asked him, "What would you like to do?" He said, "I'd like to have a restaurant with my brother."

I haven't done anything hands-on with his restaurant, just signed the cheques. I feel very confident. If I go and he says to me, "You need to come in the kitchen," I'll take off my jacket and get in there; I don't mind at all. But I'm sure that won't happen.

Federico Sali, 34, trained as a chef in Tuscany before coming to England in the mid-1990s. He worked for Giorgio Locatelli for a decade and recently opened his first restaurant, Tinello, in Chelsea, west London, with his brother Max, an award-winning sommelier. He lives in west London with his wife and daughter

I was working in Wiltshire but I knew I wanted to come to London and work in an Italian restaurant – that was always my dream. At that time there were only two places I wanted to work – the River Café or Zafferano. Mark, a chef I worked with, made the connection for me. The day after I said yes to a job at Zafferano, I came into work and picked up [industry magazine] Caterer; Giorgio was on the cover because of a row with Marcus Wareing. Mark came over to me and said, "There you go, that's where you're gonna work now."

When I went to work for Giorgio I started at the bottom. I used to make the fresh pasta and the grissini [breadsticks] in this tiny room. A couple of mornings Giorgio came in and ate the grissini, he said, "Who's been making this?" and from then it felt like he started to notice me.

One day, the chef who worked on the hot pasta didn't turn up. I didn't have the training but I'd been concentrating. I was told to cover and it went smoothly, I never had to go back to the little room.

Ten years ago, Giorgio told me he wanted me on board at Locanda, but first he was working on his TV show. I was in the back getting all the ingredients, chopping and setting up the mise en place. We'd make a 30-minute show in one 12-hour day – three or four recipes, doing each two or three times. It was intense.

In the kitchen he is very focused and passionate. He has to drive the kitchen to a different level. He comes in and the atmosphere just changes. They are all moody, cooking and then he comes in – boom! He lightens the mood or sometimes completely the other way – not in a bad way, but if he sees things that aren't right.

He can be very paternal, and will look after people well – from the kitchen porter to the head chef. To him, there's no difference. Sure, sometimes there's friction, but more importantly we all respect each other's work. I want to build the same relationship with my staff that Giorgio has. You have to find the right people and motivate them; if people feel comfortable, they'll stick with you.

Tinello, 87 Pimlico Road, London SW1, tel: 020 7730 3663. Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Street, London W1, 020 7935 9088