When did you start cooking?
When I was 12 I started working in a pastry shop and I continued my studies in a professional school.
I was born in a small town near Bari, so my favorite dish is fish fry, it cannot be otherwise. Another dish that I really love is my mom’s eggplant parmigiana!
Why did you start cooking for Refettorio Antoniano? What differentiates it from the other soup kitchens in the area?
I first learned about Antoniano almost 10 years ago. I came as a volunteer once a month as part of the Italian Federation of Chefs, which has been supporting the project for years. Then, two years ago, we did a series of projects together. At the beginning, my plan was to stay just for a couple of months, but after two years I’m still here.
Antoniano has a special energy: it can give you much love, so much that you can’t leave it.
Here, I have the opportunity to experience things that I never had the chance to do before.
One thing I know for sure is that its value is due to the relationships between the everyday working team and the volunteers. This is what really makes our service special and makes the guests feel welcomed.
What makes a meal at Refettorio Antoniano so special? How does the food reflect the sense of inclusion that lies behind the project?
How we work together, our collaborations each day, this is what really makes the project really special. It’s like building something, placing a brick each day as we learn together and at the same time, bring benefit to those who receive the meal, the chefs and the volunteers.
The food reflects inclusion: here we take care of each guest, considering their origins, their culture, their needs, and their food-culinary heritage.
Often the guests come from different ethnicities, and we always try to please them all. The goal is to make these people feel at home. This is what inclusion really means.
Nowadays, chefs should promote a more sustainable food system while fully respecting the resources of our planet. How do you follow this principle in your kitchen?
This aspect is very important for those who work in the kitchen and as Kitchen Manager, I try to convey this respect to all those I collaborate with. The first step in promoting a more sustainable food system is in our selection of food. When we receive food donations we carefully select the one that is most suitable for our needs, we do not take more than we need and then continue the cycle, donating the rest to other realities.
This is just the first step.
Often the products donated by our partners come from large retailers and, in many cases, they are end-of-life products, very close to an “use-by date” or “good-by date”. What we do is make sure they don’t go to waste, which means using them before the expiration date, and transforming them into nutritious and delicious meals. In addition to this, I also try to provide my collaborators with new cooking techniques. This is very important, for the environment but also for Antoniano’s fiscal responsibility.
Can you provide a couple of examples of how recovered food can be turned into healthy and nutritious meals?
I always try to follow two important rules: the first one is not to change the organoleptic and nutritional characteristics of the foods we process; the second is to associate proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the meals we serve. In this way, our guests will be able to follow a balanced diet with the right amount of nutrients.
Guests are like family members who sit at our table: we have to take care of their health.
We always say that cooking is an act of love … do you agree?
Absolutely. I’ve been a chef for a long time and the enthusiasm towards this job is the fuel that keeps me alive.
I love cooking, I love my job and everything it can give. Furthermore, as we get older, we raise awareness of the importance of the role that chefs have.
If combined with experience, love and enthusiasm, this job can give great satisfaction.