Francesco Mazzei: Do you remember how we met? It was at a lunch with Prince Charles at Highgrove about 10 years ago. This is a great story. You went up to him and he said, “I think you need a new suit…” I said, ‘Fuck!’ I couldn’t believe it.
Ozwald Boateng: I remember. Funnily enough I’m seeing him next week. I’m going to St James’s Palace so I’ll follow up on the conversation. I remember you contacted me again when you opened Sartoria.
FM: Exactly – I told you I was going to open a place next door to you and that you should treat it like your own house. I said you had to bring your staff and clients here. This is how we do hospitality in Italy – you treat your neighbour as if he’s a superstar. You need to make sure that everyone who walks through that door feels special.
You need to know the name of all the regulars, remember what food they like, what wine they drink, which table they like to sit at. That’s a difficult thing for a chef today, because you might have three or four restaurants and TV commitments. But if you lose that hospitality, then you lose the magic. A lot of people wear a jacket and they think they’re a chef. They open a restaurant and it fails. Why? Because they didn’t work hard enough. The day you think you’re the best is the day you’re going to die. You can always make yourself a little better, always do more. But if you get everything right, you get regulars like you here a few times a week, and you bring your friends. Remember when you brought Will Smith to eat here?
OB: Yeah, I’ve known Will for a long time. I dressed him for his first Oscar nomination, for Ali. He’s constantly cracking jokes, very witty. The interesting thing about fame is that it’s not permanent. When you’ve been in the business as long as I, which is over 30 years, you see people fly up into the stratosphere who you probably wouldn’t even recognise today. Even the most famous people know this – there’s always someone who’s got more Instagram followers, or is the new face of Dior. When I started out there wasn’t much curiosity about what I did, so I think that mindset has stuck, even when people started paying attention. It’s not like I walk into a room and expect everybody to know who I am – if people recognise me I’m very appreciative. When you’re like the two of us, you get beyond fame, you just look at individuals and decide if they are good guys or not.
FM: Completely. It’s like the first time someone called me a celebrity chef. I was like, “Celebrity? What did I miss?” For me a celebrity is someone who doesn’t need to work, who just appears on TV. I work 15 hours a day. I get up in the morning and deal with the kids, then I run three restaurants.
Fresh Spaghetti with egg and truffle
FM: There’s 40g of fresh truffle grated over these. They’re right in season now, and it’s been a great season. The weather’s been amazing. Truffle needs a good amount of sun, good amount of water and cold nights, and that’s exactly what happened. Last year wasn’t so good, so the price went up to £10,000 a kilo. This year it’s £3,000. It’s still bloody expensive, but when you’ve got Ozwald Boateng sitting at your table you bring out the best.
OB: I love that I can eat an entire plate of truffle spaghetti and still feel healthy. It’s so light! Staying in shape is important to me. I do Bikram yoga in the morning. It’s like a workout – you sweat so much. If you don’t get your breathing right you’ll never survive it. Then for lunch I come here because I can eat well but still function in the afternoon.
FM: I do nothing bad during the day – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke – but when night time comes, I let myself go. What do you like to cook yourself?
OB: I’m one of those men who’s been spoilt by having people cook for him. It’s a skill I definitely need to develop. I’m good friends with Laurence Fishburne and he’s an incredible cook. Every time I’m in his house in LA, we’ve got a ritual: we do a big catch up, pour some wine and he cooks me a big meal. In another life he would have been a chef. One time he was a bit annoyed because I wasn’t cooking enough so he said, “Look, we’re going to cook something together.” We made salmon and vegetables. It was a lot of fun.
FM: I did the same with Stanley Tucci. Me, Stanley and the Italian ambassador did this cook-off together. Stanley is pretty good. He once came up to me and said, “Will you marry me?” It turned out he wanted me to cook for his wedding, which I did. His family is from Calabria, where my family is from. Food is everything in Calabria. My uncle owned an ice cream and pastry shop, and I used to work there to earn money to buy Levi’s jeans and Nike shoes – that’s how I got started as a chef. Where I come from we still make our own salami, our own breads, our own cheese, grow our own vegetables. My mum still does. I only eat the best – if the only place to eat was a McDonalds, I’d rather go hungry for the day. Life is too short. Proper food is like medicine, like going to the gym, like doing therapy, like going to mass. Eating red meat every day is not good for you. Too much fat is not good for you. You need to apply rules, find the balance between pulses, vegetables, pasta, fish, oily fish and a little bit of white meat. For me, in my personal life, there’s no cow anymore, because we abused it. My philosophy is to find balance – it makes the world a bit more green and we live better.
OB: I have Ghanaian heritage. The food there is very rich in oil, with a lot of fried food, very spicy. I still love my mother’s jollof rice, a very well known Ghanaian rice dish, which is fried and has shrimps and meat. Every nation in West Africa claims to have invented it – Nigerians and Ghanaians argue constantly about it. It would be like the Spanish saying that they invented pasta. You’d be like, “What? Impossible.” I’m visiting Ghana this month – I’m a big fan of the new president, he’s very progressive. I want to talk to him about how we can develop the textile and cotton industry. So I was wondering, have you noticed any changes surrounding Brexit?
FM: No – people keep saying that there will be a major problem, but nothing really yet. We’re worried there might be a problem with getting staff, but people from Europe still want to come here to work, and we still want them! When I first came to London in 1995 I was at the Dorchester for four years, and I fell in love with this country because we’re all different ethnic people but perfectly integrated. It’s not like that in Italy, it’s not like that in France.
OB: The problem for me is the lack of clarity – what exactly it means to leave. That uncertainty is having financial effects that will be felt one, two, three, four years from now. I have some top clients who would visit London three times a year who are now coming maybe once a year. If you’re running a global business you start thinking, “Maybe I need to look at Ireland, maybe I need to look at Paris…” It’s difficult, because fashion is already going through some rapid changes. It’s been revolutionised by social media and e-commerce and technology. There’s a big movement towards reducing waste – before I would have carried a lot of stock, now I carry virtually none. And in five or 10 years, everything will be made to order. You’ll be at home, look at your mobile phone, scan your body, generate some measurements and your clothes will be made in a factory. At least you know where you stand when you’re cooking for people...
FM: Yeah, social media has been great for chefs – it gives you a record of the things you’ve created, and gives you a way to attract new customers.
OB: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
FM: I would go back home for my mum’s rabbit stew – I’m genuine when I say that. She’s 64, a beautiful, beautiful lady. Back home I have everything I need. Love, family and proper fucking food.
OB: Do you want your kids to become chefs?
FM: They’re free to do what they want but we have rules at home, like every Sunday morning – the only day I have off – we go out together to the Farmer’s Market and buy food to eat together. I don’t want them to become Francesco Mazzei but I want them to be able to cook the proper food. That’s very important for me. But I don’t want to influence their careers – when I told my dad I was going to the catering college he looked at me and said, “You’ve got two arms, two legs, you’ve got a brain… Why do you want to be a cook?” But before he died I was his best son because I made a lot of money and became a celebrity.
OB: When I told my dad I wanted to design clothes he asked if I had brain damage. He’d sent me to private school and this isn’t what he expected...
FM: And look at us now!
Francesco Mazzei is chef patron of Sartoria on Savile Row, Radici in Islington and Fiume at Battersea Power Station.To book Sartoria visit sartoria-restaurant.co.uk; To see Boateng’s collection go to ozwaldboateng.co.uk