Olly Santoro.

I began my cooking journey in London in 2019. After working at Front of House, I was drawn to the fast-paced and creative kitchen environment. I was always eager to plate desserts or snacks and would jump at any chance to shout “service.” There was something attractive and strangely glamorous about it all. I recall being told, “You really love being a chef, don’t you?” – a sentiment that has always been obvious to everyone.

Cooking has always been a way for me to feel more connected to my Sicilian heritage. Although I grew up in London and have never lived in Italy or Sicily, my dad’s fond memories of his mum’s (my Nonna’s) cooking have always inspired me. He made me feel like his nostalgia was my own, creating a shared experience. The simplistic, rustic nature of the trattorie feels like home to me.

Cooking in this style links me to places I feel connected to, especially Since my Nonno passed away last year; my duty is to continue cooking and learning more about myself. It gives me the energy to push forward in an industry that can sometimes be unforgiving and tiring. But give me some meat, offal, or beans to braise, and I’ll always be happy.

There’s something almost therapeutic about sitting in an Italian cafe and enjoying a bowl of beans in olive oil. Many people might associate this feeling with drinking a Guinness in a warm, dimly lit pub. I believe that the ultimate goal of cooking should be to make people feel this way—to create dishes that nourish the body and feed the soul.

For me, nose-to-tail cooking is essential. Nothing should go to waste, and the creativity that arises from this philosophy shapes much of the food I cook. When I work with an ingredient and use every part of it, I respect the produce and learn more about the industry. It’s a great way to gain a deeper understanding of food and connect with the ingredients meaningfully.

I hope the food industry moves towards a zero-waste approach and eliminates sous vide cooking. It’s inspiring for chefs and better for the environment; the love and care in cooking should not involve wrapping food in plastic and cooking it in water.