How I Made It: 'I left my architecture career in Venice to be a chef in London'

Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s weekly career journey series.

This week we’re chatting with Francesca Mazzocco, an Italian chef and cookery teacher, whose pasta class in south London I attended last weekend.

After beginning a career in Italy, Francesca realised her heart wasn’t in it and needed a radical change – namely, moving to London and starting again as a chef and pasta cookery teacher.

She says: ‘I work long hours by myself in the pasta section, so teaching was always very exciting for me.

‘I had never thought of myself as a teacher, but I finally found my true vocation.’

And she truly is great at it, having experienced it myself first hand.

Here’s how she took the leap of faith and started over – finally learning to trust her gut instinct.

Hey Francesca. What made you first get into architecture?

The fact that I didn’t take a gap year right after finishing school made me rush into making a really big decision, which I was not ready for.

I wasn’t mature enough to understand how much impact that decision would have on my life at age 19.

I liked studying architecture, but I didn’t really understand what I wanted to do after my degree. I didn’t even think of studying something food related, because I thought my parents wouldn’t approve.

At what point did you realise that wasn’t for you anymore?

After finishing my master’s degree I was finally working as an architect in Venice, and for years I thought that was what I wanted. But it wasn’t.

I looked at the people around me in the office, some had been in the same spot for years, and thought: That’s not what I really want.

I didn’t find my job stimulating and I almost felt trapped into a life that didn’t belong to me.

I needed a big change in my life, professionally and personally, so I moved to London.

At first I was still looking for a job in architecture, until I started working in a kitchen and realised I didn’t want to go back to an office.

I didn’t want to push myself into something I didn’t love any further.

Being away from my family and friends made it easy to make a big decision that most of them thought was a bit crazy. I moved to London on my own, so it was just me, my life and the big city.

What made you discover being a chef was your calling?

I always loved cooking, I started when I was a child.

I remember when I was a teenager I would cook my family dinner just to get away from studying. I would make the same sauce over and over again until it was perfect.

And at university it was very much the same, I preferred spending hours in the kitchen trying to teach myself some complicated recipe instead of putting that energy into finishing a project.

I finally realised that when I started working in a kitchen. I was organised, fast, precise and most importantly, confident. I really felt at ease for the first time.

How did you make the career switch? Was it daunting?

It was really hard at first. I remember crying more than once in the first kitchen I worked in.

I didn’t know what I was doing yet, but I always knew that I didn’t want to look back.

There was something inside of me that knew that I needed to follow my instincts for once, even though I wasn’t sure where they would take me.

Did you grow up with elder relatives cooking?

I spent so much time with my grandparents in Rome as a kid.

It was an incredible feeling to be in the silence of my grandmother’s timeless kitchen.

She would spend hours carefully cleaning and cutting vegetables, making sauces, and especially making pasta.

That’s why pasta is so important to me, and why I choose to specialise in it.

My grandparents came from a poor village in southern Italy, and they taught me not to waste any food in my kitchen.

What was your first job in the UK?

The very first job was in a pizza/fast food restaurant, which I hated.

Then I decided I wanted to pursue my career as a chef and pasta maker, so I went back to Italy for a month to get some training from one of my best friends who had opened a fresh pasta restaurant in Vicenza.

As soon as I got back I saw an ad for a job as a pasta maker and within a week I had my first job.

An average day in the working life of Francesca Mazzocco

9am: She checks her emails and goes through admin.

11am-2pm: Time to teach classes.

2pm: She will research for new possible clients.

Francesca teaching a class (Picture: Mariangela Iodice)

4pm: Do promotion on social media, creating assets and posts.

6pm: Next, she will write down ideas for a recipe to make and post on social media.

7pm: Finally, the day will end with cooking and filming a video to edit the next day.

What do you love most about your job?

That it comes naturally. I love cooking and hosting dinners for my friends, and it’s not very different from what I do in my job.

I love getting to know new people and teaching them what I love most.

I promote slow food because I really believe in it, and at the end of each course I really hope that my clients/students will go home and spend some time cooking for themselves, it’s good for the body and the soul.

What do you dislike the most?

Being self-employed. It can be hard, especially at the beginning.

For someone like me who has always been an employee it can be difficult to make decisions when you know you are the one responsible for every single one, to wake up in the morning and be my own boss.

But now, after 6 months, I am definitely more focused.

How I Made It

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