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Francesco Mazzei - My Uncle’s Gelateria

Francesco Mazzei: my uncle’s gelateria

by Great Italian Chefs 29 October 2015

Leading London chef Francesco Mazzei tells us about his first job working in his uncle's ice cream parlour in Italy which sparked his career in the world of food.

'I come from a family of five, plus mum and dad. There was not a lot of money . . . and of course all our friends had Levi jeans and Nike shoes, so I went to my dad and said that I wanted these things, too.'

He said: ‘That’s a lot of money, you need to find a job’. Of course he was joking . . . I was eight! But there was my uncle, and he’s got this beautiful, massive ice cream shop. So I went to him and said I wanted a job because I need to buy these things.

He said: ‘Ok, you start tomorrow at eight o'clock’. He was joking as well. But the day after I was there at eight o'clock, and I started making ice cream. The real ice cream. The real gelato.'

'I remember the first ice cream I ever made was hazelnut. I was cracking one big bag of Nocciola Piemonte – the nice big ones – and the rule was for every nine hazelnuts the tenth one was supposed to be with the skin on – to give the right colour, the right balance. That was the rule . . . I was made to do 10kg. It was a nightmare. I don’t know how many times I cracked my finger!'

'Uncle was quite tough. I remember him having a sleep in the afternoon with the mixing bowl next to him, and he was saying: ‘Francesco, switch off the mixer’ – knowing when it was ready, just by the sound of it. I wish I had that talent. Now we need the recipe . . . in those days there was no recipe. Just the things you were feeling. Pure artisan.'

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'We had one ice cream machine, and we didn’t even have a pasteuriser for the milk. Unbelievable, but it was really pure. We made six to eight different flavours, no more than that. Chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut, latte, four fruit flavours, and then the granita as well. The best thing was the respect given to the food, not to throw anything away.'

'Gelato is very, very important in Italian culture; do you know any other population who dress up to go get an ice cream? It’s like going to a theatre! Sometimes we didn’t have dinner because it was too hot. We just had a nice, big bowl of ice cream.'

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