Meet the Chef: Francesco Mazzei from Radici, Islington in London

Born in Calabria, Francesco Mazzei grew up with a passion for food. Since graduating from college and moving to Rome in 1992, he has traveled extensively and worked with a number of renowned chefs in a selection of award-winning restaurants.

The Dorchester in Mayfair, the Michelin-starred Eden Terazza in Rome, Hakkasan in Istanbul and Miami, and the Santini restaurants in London, Edinburgh and Milan are just a few of the famous places Mazzei has contributed to in recent years he opened his first restaurant in 2008.

L’Anima was open from 2008 to 2015 and had a menu inspired by traditional cuisine from Calabria, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. He published his first cookbook Mezzogiorno: Francesco Mazzei Recipes from southern Italy and has been featured regularly on BBC shows such as Saturday Kitchen, MasterChef, the James Martin Show and in the Italian edition of Hell’s Kitchen with Carlo Cracco.

Mazzei opened the southern Italian restaurants Radici in Islington and Fiume in Battersea in 2017. We speak to the chef about everything to do with food including his love for olive oil and polenta.

What or who inspired you to become a chef?

My whole family inspired me to become a chef. I love cooking for them and eating together as a family.

I was often in the kitchen, baking bread and making pasta with my Nonna and my mother, and I had my first impression of the professional kitchen in my uncle’s gelateria, where I mastered Italian cakes and gelato when I was nine .

Francesco Mazzei grew up with a passion for food. Since graduating from college and moving to Rome in 1992, he has traveled extensively and worked with a number of renowned chefs in a selection of award-winning restaurants

What’s your trademark?

One of my typical dishes is licorice cod, which is on my menu in Sartoria. The recipe consists of peas, broad beans, and griotte onions served alongside the black cod.

What are the most important considerations when creating your menu?

When creating my menus, I think the most important thing is seasonality. I love to cook with seasonal ingredients as they are fresh and more environmentally friendly.

Do your personal preferences affect the menu at all?

My personal preferences are always reflected in my menu, but I also always make sure there is something for everyone. Of course, I love sharing my favorites with my customers, but it’s important to have a variety of items on the menu so people feel like there’s always something they’ll be happy to order.

Do you have a favorite time of year or a set of ingredients you’d like to work with?

Spring is my favorite season. Not only do you see flowers start to bloom all over town, but there are plenty of new vegetables in season that I always look forward to cooking with.

Francesco Mazzei previously worked at the Dorchester in Mayfair and the Michelin-starred Eden Terazza in Rome

What’s your favorite ingredient?

My absolute favorite cooking ingredient is extra virgin olive oil, which you can always find in my kitchen. I also love to cook with seasonal ingredients.

What would you do if you weren’t a cook?

Hard to say, I really can’t imagine anything other than being a chef. If I had to be something else, I hope I would help those in need.

What’s your favorite dish at home?

My kids love freshly made southern Italian pasta so it should be cavatelli and Welsh lamb ragu.

When are you happiest

Quite simply, I am happiest when my family and team are happy!

If you’re not in the kitchen, where can you be found?

When I’m not in the kitchen, I can most likely drive my Maserati through the English countryside.

Francesco Mazzei opened the southern Italian restaurants Radici in Islington and Fiume in Battersea in 2017

What’s your favorite takeaway or convenience?

Polenta, I could have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I am currently working on a number of Italian recipes with Polenta Valsugana. Because polenta is so versatile, I was able to create six different recipes, ranging from warm, hearty dishes to lighter and more colorful salads and desserts.

Where do you prefer to dine?

My favorite restaurant is Hakkassan. I’ve been in love with this place since I worked there as a cooking consultant. The food there is still as amazing as it was when I worked there.

How has the pandemic affected your company?

As you can imagine, it was a very difficult year. The hotel industry is badly affected. We’re grateful for the vacation program but they didn’t take into account that a large part of our employees’ salaries is covered by Tronc (service fee) which means they have been hit harder than anyone.

We have adapted where possible and offer delivery and meal sets for customers at home. We will continue to offer deliveries from Radici.

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