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Pasta chefs with benefits


Got your back: Sabine Hobbel from The Netherlands and Italian Nico Olivieri have made a home together and have started a food business and a family in Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Got your back: Sabine Hobbel from The Netherlands and Italian Nico Olivieri have made a home together and have started a food business and a family in Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Got your back: Sabine Hobbel from The Netherlands and Italian Nico Olivieri have made a home together and have started a food business and a family in Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Sabine Hobbel only learned Italian to be able to speak to her husband Nico Olivieri's parents. "Nico and I speak to each other in English, but speak to his parents in Italian and my family in Dutch," says Sabine, who moved here with Nico in February 2012.

This is a pair who don't hang about. Together four years, they are now married with an eleven month-old baby son Aidan, and a new business, Leaves Pure Food. They met in July 2011 after Sabine moved to Amsterdam to take up a position at the university there, and found a place to live with an Italian girl, Sahiela. Sahiela brought her to Nico's deli, Talia, as there was always fun there in the evening. Later that evening, Nico accompanied them to a live music venue, and he and Sabine hit it off.

"Sabine was beautiful, and she stood out and looked exotic," he says. "Our conversation was fun and relaxed, and I liked that she was easygoing. She wasn't trying to impress me, but I knew she liked me too."

Sabine liked Nico's enthusiasm and expressive Italian gestures, and the fact that he laughed a lot. They started dating, and moved in together four months later, around the time that Nico's mum was diagnosed with cancer. She is thankfully better now, but Nico was grateful for Sabine's support. "She was such a help to me and got me through it," he says. "It was the first big thing to bond us together."

Nico, 30, is from Milan, and is the only child of Maria and Antonino Olivieri. His mum is a secondary school history and geography teacher, and his dad is an IT consultant. After studying science and communication at university, Nico worked for Greenpeace in Italy and then moved to its headquarters in Amsterdam in 2008. He and his friend Lele also had a band called Black Sheeps (the plural came about as their English wasn't too hot, he laughs) and released an album.

"We wanted to become rock stars, but we needed to do something while we waited to get famous," he explains. "Being Italian, we both loved to cook, so we cooked Italian meals in people's homes. It took off and kept us so busy that I never touched a guitar again. Then Lele moved back to Italy, and I spoke about opening a deli with another friend Michele, who was all for it. I had €5 in my bank account and Michele had €4, but we built Talia from nothing and it became a nice, cool place for the community. We got a lot of help, as people came in and worked for free to help out."

Sabine, 27, is from Dordrecht in The Netherlands, and the eldest of Erik and Els Hobbel's three children. She spent her first four years in the US, as her dad worked as a chemical engineer at DuPont, which has its headquarters in Delaware. Sabine did a liberal arts and sciences degree in Utrecht, and as part of that, she went to Australia. She played elite level field hockey there, and was even part of the Tasmania under-21 team. She moved to Amsterdam after obtaining a master's in health psychology in Edinburgh.

She and Nico became engaged in 2012, after he proposed while they were collecting shells on a beach in Spain. They decided then to move to Ireland, as Nico loved it ever since he first came here on a school trip when he was 15. "We came here for a week to check it out, but the people were so warm, friendly and welcoming that we had found an apartment by the third day," says Sabine. "We moved here and both got jobs within two weeks."

Nico worked as a chef on a steak stand at various markets, while Sabine got a job as a TEFL teacher. Then they decided to start a catering business, providing a more natural type of corporate catering. At the same time as they were launching this business, Nico and Sabine held their humanist wedding ceremony in September 2013 in Sonairte in Laytown, an ecological centre with organic walled gardens in Co Meath. They were together two years by then, and 50 friends and family flew from all over Europe to attend. It was the first occasion that their two families had actually met, and one of their friends, who is very spiritual, was the celebrant. They wrote their own vows and made the cake, and held the formal registry office part two weeks later. Both sets of parents returned to Ireland to attend. "We only had two months to plan the wedding," says Nico, "and we didn't realise how much work was involved."

On the work front, the pair's range of tortillas and Spanish omelettes was going down so well with corporate clients, they thought it would be great if people could buy their products in a store. This led to them joining up with SuperValu's Food Academy to develop and sell their wheat-free, artisan wholegrain pasta nationwide,

Pasta with Benefits is made from buckwheat and chickpeas, has no additives and is high in protein. There are two types - the classic, sage flavoured and garlic flavoured. The idea to make the pasta gluten-free came about as Nico, who also has type 1 diabetes, developed a wheat intolerance - pretty disastrous when you come from an Italian family.

Not ones to do things by halves, they launched the pasta range as they were expecting their baby Aidan. While there were a couple of complications with the pregnancy, Aidan came out healthy and well in September 2014. He's a great baby, they say, although he's not too fond of sleeping at night. "People tell you how beautiful having a baby is, but you don't realise it until you have your own," says Sabine. "We don't have family here, so for the first six months of Aidan's life, he came everywhere with us, even to a two-day entrepreneur workshop and all the conferences. We have done a lot in a short time, but I think Nico and I just work together really well and get things done quickly. We help each other out a lot too, which makes things easier."

Pasta with Benefits by Leaves Pure Food is available at SuperValu and from www.leavespurefood.com

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