'Irish people are keen to taste dishes from abroad'
Tanya Sweeney talks to Maurizio Mastrangelo, restaurateur
When I was a child, food was the family reunion; a celebration. On a Sunday morning, I used to wake up in the morning and watch my mother cooking the traditional Sunday feast.
I was fascinated by the way she used the simple and fresh ingredients to make a great meal. It was passed on from generation to generation. My mother learnt from my grandmother and I got this passion for food from my mother.
We used only the fresh ingredients from our farm and we also produced our own wine, extra-virgin olive oil and tomato puree. In January, we would make the sausages, in October, we would make the wine, and in November, the olive oil.
As a child, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, following the footsteps of my dad, who was a builder. He was an entrepreneur when he lived in Venezuela, and he had a little activity in the hospitality field. My dad's dream was to open his own restaurant and share his passion about food.
I always said to myself I would like to honour my dad's dream. I met Marco Giannantonio in my village in 2004, when I was working as an IT trainer. He was studying English in Ireland and he mentioned the opportunity to open a business here.
The economic situation in Italy was not good at that time, and we decided to bring the Italian culture of food and wine to Ireland and the Irish people to Italy.
[When I first arrived to Ireland], I saw a country with a great vitality and a real presence of lots of cuisines. The Irish people are always keen to taste a different dish from other countries rather than eating only Irish food. Our first impression was that there were a lot of Italian restaurants but only a few of them were offering the authentic cuisine of Italy.
We decided to open the first, and only, Italian cookery school in Dublin. We are in a country that enjoys the culture of Italy - whenever I said I was Italian, everyone was very positive about it. There's a real affinity between the two countries.
The problem with many Italian restaurants in Ireland is that the cuisine is so well known that more people have tried to do it… and unfortunately they're not Italian.
They don't know how to deliver real Italian cuisine. A few of them might have left Italy when they were very young, but they've lost the link to Italy. What's more, they try to adapt dishes to Irish tastes - we never use chicken in pasta carbonara, for instance.
Yet the passion for food in the Irish culture is growing, due to the fact that they are travelling more and discovering new cultures and tasting different food, and have an open mind to try new things. We teach the people coming to our courses how to use simple and fresh products and make amazing Italian dishes.
There are many new restaurants opening in Ireland, but when there is so much competition it means that the field is alive. People are interested in what you're doing. Competition is healthy for your business so I don't worry about it too much.
Even if there are so many cuisines on offer in Ireland, the Italian one will always stand out, as it is one of the few cuisines in which you are able to make excellent dishes using simple and fresh ingredients.
One of the big advantages of my job is that I get to travel home to Italy about four or five times a year. So I never lose contact with my home country. Still, Dublin is a very hospitable city, and I love how I can walk down the street here and meet clients and friends all the time.
This rarely happens in a big Italian city. I am very happy with what I have achieved in my work life. Also developing a business in a foreign country is always difficult, but in Ireland I found a very good environment to grow it and now I feel very well integrated. Nowadays, Marco and I have to concentrate on the business almost 24 hours a day.
It's rarely far from our minds. But because we are doing something we love and it links us with home, you never really feel like you're working.
For more information on Flavour of Italy's restaurant, cookery school and products, see flavourofitaly.net