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Homesick Italian missed cooking at home so flew over moms to launch restaurants, writes JANE FRYER


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Young Italian men and their loving mothers have always had an unusually close relationship.

She does his laundry, makes his bed and picks him up as he hangs out like a spoiled little signore.

She will never hear a bad word against him, but of course has a lot – not all good – to say about his romantic partners.

But above all, she cooks for him: mouth-watering delicious food. From dawn to dusk, it seems, she chops, simmers, sauté, baste and cook.

All this means that, when the spoiled dude finally leaves the house, the outside world may come as a shock. Take Giuseppe Corsaro, who arrived in London from Sicily 22 years ago. He was 17 years old, spoke no English and was homesick, but determined to stay here.

“I missed my family, my house and especially my mother,” he says. ‘I lost over 7 kg (15 lb) in six months because I was pining. And the food – it was so awful!

Giuseppe founded La Mia Mamma, an Italian restaurant in a very different style here in Britain, where the chefs have no formal training and have never even worked in a professional kitchen.

“Of course my mom sent me food boxes, but they ran out very quickly and I missed her food so much — I still remember.”

That’s why, almost two decades later, he founded La Mia Mamma, a rather different style of Italian restaurant here in Britain, where the consultant chefs had no formal training and never even worked in a professional kitchen.

Instead, they have different qualifications: they are Italian mothers in their 50s, 60s and 70s who just want to cook and cook—if not for their own sons, then for someone else’s.

‘Everyone misses their mother’s cooking,’ says Mamma Fabiana, 57, who hails from the Marche region of eastern Italy, constantly laughing and claims to make the best tiramisu in the world.

‘I made shoes for 25 years, but that was my job. Cooking for my family was my love because food keeps the family together. It makes me happy. Here I like to share my cooking skills with other people.’

This concept is such a winning formula that the first restaurant on King’s Road in London’s Chelsea has been joined by another nearby, with a third – currently closed for refurbishment – in chi-chi Notting Hill and a fourth for the opening in Fulham at the end of the summer.

To see how it all works, I went to Fabiana for a master class, in which she patiently showed me how to make fresh cavatelli pasta – by rolling each individual dish on a fluted wooden spatula and shaping it into the shape of a small ‘cava’, or cave — with pistachio and ricotta pesto.

Good food belongs to the Italians.  It's part of their DNA.

Good food belongs to the Italians. It’s part of their DNA.

But the mamas don’t just cook in front of the restaurant’s front window. They welcome customers with great friendly whoops. They drag huge, steaming pots of pasta from table to table. They brag. They talk to young Italians who could be their children – or grandchildren – listen to their misery and bombard them with homemade food. They’ll even sing and play tambourine, if that’s your thing.

They are everywhere and extremely noisy – laughing and yelling and waving their arms, a lot.

And at the end of the night, they hug customers and hold their soothing bosoms and kiss and wave goodbye — even while wiping their tears. “We have a lot of tears,” says Mama Sara – at 41 years old, by far the youngest and most glamorous mama. “People can get very emotional. Many are homesick, but as much for the food as for everything else. They need their mother.’

Gosh, what a bunch of ridiculous mammoni (mummy boys)!

All of this means Italian men (and women, to be honest) flock to La Mia Mamma across London.

And so does Hollywood star and foodie Stanley Tucci, who loved the mamas and their homemade food so much that he filmed part of his upcoming TV series Searching For Italy here. “Oh, we love, love, love Stanley,” Mama Sara calls out. “We thought he was just an American actor, but he was so passionate about food — he just really understood it.”

The mamma concept was launched in 2017. Giuseppe then ran Made In Italy, a small chain of Italian restaurants in London. Life was good, but he still craved something more authentic.

‘British food was great – it had changed,’ he says. “But something was still missing. It was restaurant food—never my mother’s food.’

So, spurred on by a friend over a glass of wine, he called his 63-year-old mother Anna, who helped out in his father’s real estate office, and asked if she would consider flying over from Sicily to cook for him and his friends. at a pop-up restaurant.

“She got really quiet, which was a little disturbing, so I asked if she was still there and she said, ‘I’m just on Google. I found a flight on Wednesday — see you then!”’

That was nearly five years ago—and she’s been here ever since with the trusty old paring knife she’d brought from home.

‘In the beginning she was quite scared. It was a new life, a new adventure,” says Giuseppe.

Giuseppe’s father followed her to the UK shortly afterwards.

But as good as Anna was, one real mother would never be enough for all the motherless Italians in London, so Giuseppe decided to expand.

He started by posting a message on social media saying that he was hunting for mamas – not trained chefs – to cook at a restaurant in London. If they came for at least three months, he’d pay for their travel expenses, a transportation allowance while he was here, and even accommodate them in a Mammas’ House in London.

He was flooded. “It got completely out of hand. I started with Sicily, but I got messages from all over Italy – a lot of them from their children!’

One was the mother of one of his best school friends – ‘her cooking was amazing, we all wanted to go to his house’ – so even though she spoke only Italian, she was right in.

One was a teacher. Another had worked for the municipality. Some had barely traveled; the Underground turned out to be quite a shock.

Mamma Marilena, from Emilia-Romagna – the rich gastronomic region of northern Italy – was 60 years old and had never left the country, or spent any time without her husband since their marriage. But when she saw an ad in a local paper, she said, “I want to go!”

She came with her son – he worked at the bar – and stayed for four months.

“She loved it. She was so happy. We all cried when she left,” says Mama Sara.

After a telephone interview, all the mums were then invited to come to London – armed with signature recipes from their region, passed down from generation to generation, which they were supposed to cook during the interview process.

Hollywood star and foodie Stanley Tucci loved the mamas and their home cooking so much that he filmed part of his upcoming TV series Searching For Italy there.

Hollywood star and foodie Stanley Tucci loved the mamas and their home cooking so much that he filmed part of his upcoming TV series Searching For Italy there.

Mamma Maria is from Bari and loves nothing more than to fill customers with panzerotti (savory fries), orecchiette alle cime di rapa (pasta ‘ears’ with Italian broccoli) and handmade bigne (small, deep-fried pastries).

And Mamma Fabiana’s recipes—along with her tiramisu—include ragu marchigaiano (chicken, pork, and beef slow-cooked in tomato sauce) and rabbit in tomato sauce. They all came from her mother-in-law.

“I divorced my husband ten years ago, but I’ve adopted the recipes! They were the best things I got out of that marriage!’ she smiles.

None of them failed the cooking test. What else would you expect? Good food belongs to the Italians. It’s part of their DNA.

“It’s not just about food. It’s about the preparation. Being together. It keeps a family together. It’s part of us. When you smell the tomato pan, you have memories of the summer with your family,” says Mama Sara.

And when you think of all those famous Italian chefs who are always whining about their mothers, it seems like Giuseppe might be onto something.

Giorgio Locatelli may be decorated with Michelin stars, but he learned to cook from his mother and grandmother.

And Gennaro Contaldo loves to praise his mother’s slow-cooked ragu and bread—which she baked on Thursdays because, she said, was “the day I was born”—and the three-course lunches she fed him for years with the train.

But back to the very noisy kitchen of La Mia Mamma, where the mamas are miles from home but lack confidence or chat, especially when they oversee the cooking of their signature dishes. “They’re all very, very bossy. Very sturdy. They won’t change anything!’ says Giuseppe.

That means a lot of shouting. Lots of ‘No, no, no! That’s not how you do it. Why do you want to do it like this? My mother did it like this!’

Not only is La Mia Mamma one of the liveliest and most brilliantly chaotic restaurants around, the food is fantastic – and good value. A two course meal starting with an Aperol Spritz, followed by a selection of starters to share and a pasta dish costs £35 per person.

Add a main course and it’s £45.

I recommend the pistachio pesto with cavatelli pasta. And if you happen to be on the hunt for an unfettered Italian man, this could be your lucky spot. But do not forget that you are always second to his beloved mother.

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