Italian cuisine as an encouragement not to give up
Chef Leo Bianchi and the network of Italian chefs in Bulgaria have made Italian cuisine a medicine for the souls of Bulgarian health workers involved in the emergency
I am 47 years old and I am from Ancona. I have lived in Sofia, Bulgaria for 16 years now, with my wife Lucia and our two little twins. I first visited Bulgaria in 1992, when my father and brother opened an Italian restaurant in Burgas, on the Black Sea. It was more of a vacation experience than a work experience, but little by little I fell in love with this land, coming to work here, and so in 2005 I decided to move with Lucia and open our first restaurant. In the same year, I participated in Big Brother Bulgaria: I was the first foreigner to participate in this program and I stayed on the show until the final, but I came in second place. Thanks to the show, I was able to do a Bulgarian cooking show on TV 7, I sang Deo, a Bulgarian singer and rapper, and with Maria Ilieva.
However, Italian cuisine and catering are my main passion. I have always wanted to promote Italian products and flavors abroad by offering original recipes.
During the confinement my wife and I suddenly found ourselves with the premises closed. We took advantage of this forced break to write down our history and our potential: we also wanted to support our employees, without leaving them at home, but trying to share together a dark period like the one we were going through. The first month was very difficult, then the Bulgarian government helped us and allowed us to open the take out. Thanks to the customers who trusted us, we were able to leave.
Just then a Bulgarian colleague called me to ask if we could support, especially morally, the medical staff in the hospitals. This is how I came up with the idea of ââusing my dream of spreading Italian cuisine as a support for nursing staff.
I contacted all the Italian restaurateurs in the region, with whom I have a great relationship, anything but competitive, and together we decided to offer around 40 meals a day at each hospital.
It was certainly not easy as we had little work and had to face expenses, but it did not deter us. Italian producers and suppliers helped us by providing products, so that we could team up and share the burden of an initiative that was crucial for us.
We were trying to use the Italian supply chain, especially from southern Italy. Obviously you can’t talk about km 0 for all products, especially if you are working with Italian cuisine abroad, but we have tried, at least for products that didn’t need to be original. Here in Bulgaria, among others, km 0 is not a very widespread concept and it might be interesting to make the population known to the population.
We were very careful not to waste the ingredients that we had in the kitchen, especially those that were given to us. It’s a practice that is close to my heart in my restaurants, but even more so in this situation, where solidarity had to be total and not waste a single sheet of what we had available.
All in all it was a new experience for everyone that changed our lives forever.
Certainly, as an Italian community abroad, we have discovered that we are a united team and, above all, united. I’m not denying that there were disagreements, at the beginning we didn’t all have the same goals, but we were all in such a tense moment that I didn’t want to judge anyone, on the contrary. However, it was a way to understand which coworkers use their hearts in the things they do, and now I know I have a community I can count on.
In general, for me in particular, this has been fundamental, also because my own family has been affected by Covid and therefore I wanted to thank the health workers in one way or another. In fact, I also brought food to the hospital where my father died, precisely because of the Covid. Obviously he didn’t know it, and even the healthcare staff didn’t think we were connected, but for me it was a way of taking care of him and thanking them.
It was a really cool experience. After our initiative, many other stores and restaurants have joined this chain of solidarity. The activity has now stopped, but we know that if there is a new need, more and more of us will want to lend a hand. And it’s simple, all you need is good will and a good heart. And these are not lacking!
Slow Food Heroes is a funded project through European Cultural Foundation,
with the contribution of the CRC Foundation.
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