Francesco Mazzei on Disneyland's food, cobra curry and his life in travel

'There's nowhere I would rather be than London'

Francesco Mazzei is chef patron at Sartoria restaurant in Mayfair
Francesco Mazzei is chef patron at Sartoria restaurant in Mayfair

When an Italian goes to the seaside he doesn't bring a sandwich, he brings a lasagne.

I come from a small town up in the mountains and my first holiday memory is Mum and Dad taking us to the seaside. There was this posh kid from Milan eating brioche and Ferrero Rocher while we sat under an umbrella in the very hot sun having a slice of lasagne. For my parents it was a treat, for us it was embarrassing.

I avoid restaurants when I'm abroad.

I always try to sneak into some friend's house when their mamma is cooking. That's one of the most amazing experiences a chef can have, especially in the South of Italy – places like Naples, Rome, Basilicata and Sicily. In Italy, at all the celebrations such as Christmas, carnival and Easter, there's lots of food involved. So, I try to go to someone's house and steal the recipes. The best thing for a chef is travelling. It really helps you create new dishes.

City boy: Francesco moved to London from Italy

The food was so bad at Disneyland, I cooked in my bedroom.

I booked the trip to Disneyland Paris for one week and it was the biggest mistake of my life. The hotel cost us a fortune and the food was not good at all, so I bought an electric oven and a couple of pots and pans and I cooked for my kids and myself every night, in my room. I put something around the fire alarms for the smoke and the steam. We had a fantastic time.

Spring is the best season to be a chef.

When I go back to Italy or to France or Spain in the springtime, there is an explosion of fruits and vegetables and smells and flowers.

Moving to London changed my life.

I cried on the way because I left my wife and my family and came here by myself. I didn't like London, the grumpy people, the terrible weather, and the food wasn't that good 20 years ago. Of course then I met Alan Yau, I met big, big guys and learned a lot from them. I think that experience really made Francesco Mazzei. Now there is nowhere in the world I could be besides London.

London's restaurant scene is probably the best in the world.

You see all the big names, all the top chefs; they're all here trying to do the best they can. We go to the markets; we find the best pasta, the best rice, and the best noodles. I mean the best of the best. It's fantastic because you know you can find whatever you want, different ethnic foods from around the world. In Italy, all you find is Italian; in France, you go French. Here, when you walk down the street you find 95 restaurants: Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, anything.

I lived in Bangkok for a year.

While I was there I went to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, and China. I came back home and I was another person, I was another cook. Now I really know what oriental cuisine is. It opens your mind. In the south of Italy, where I come from in Calabria, we eat a lot of spicy food, so in Thailand I found myself in the right place. And Thai food is so healthy; so light. I can't tell you how many times I had food poisoning but then my belly got used to it and it was fantastic.

I ate cobra curry in Thailand.

It tasted good but there were flies on it. I told the lady and she just came with a spoon, took the flies away, and gave the dish back to me. I also had noodles in Cambodia which were boiled in water from a canal.

If I want to make my wife happy, I take her to Rome.

It always works. Rome is the most romantic place in the world and not because I'm Italian. There's history, there's food, there are people. It's so sweet. It's beautiful.

Francesco Mazzei is chef patron at Sartoria restaurant in Mayfair, London, which relaunched this week (sartoria-restaurant.co.uk)

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