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Union Street Café’s Head Chef, Giovanni, is from Puglia. When he was young, football was his main passion and he liked eating more than cooking, but as a teenager he decided to try his hand at something different, enrolling in a hospitality school.
Surrounded by fantastic Puglian ingredients and dishes, Giovanni began to fall in love with cooking when he moved into his first proper kitchen in the summer holidays, aged 16. ‘I started to work in the hotel La Gradisca in Rimini, peeling potatoes and helping the chefs, but I soon fell in love with what I was surrounded by, the amazing food, the service, the kitchen atmosphere. After that, I couldn’t wait for the summer school holidays every year to go and work in the kitchen.
Aged 19, Giovanni and a friend made the move from Italy to London, and he began working as a commis chef at the Baglioni hotel. ‘That was a big challenge at that age, but it was the right thing to do, and it really changed my idea of cooking and opened up my mind’. After working his way up to Chef de Partie at Semplice and then the Four Seasons Hotel, Giovanni relocated again, this time to Australia, working at Melbourne’s Circa. ‘It was an amazing experience - as chefs we were foraging wild herbs before to go to work in the morning, it was hard but exiting’.
When he left Australia, Giovanni took the opportunity to travel around South East Asia, attracted by his love of Asian food. He visited countries including Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia trying as many different kinds of food as possible. After this trip, he came back to Europe in 2015 to work for one of his idols – Gordon Ramsay – and Davide, who he describes as his mentor.
Marco Gonella, Union Street Café’s head bartender, is half Brazilian and half Italian and it’s this mix of cultures that has made him passionate about blending flavours and styles from different cultures to create original flavours every time he mixes a drink.
After working as an entertainer in tourist resorts, he approached the world of hospitality aged 20 and completed his bartender association studies before working at a small bar just outside Milan where he ‘started learning the first basic skills of this art’. Since completing his studies, Marco has put all of his passions and efforts towards constantly improving and achieving new challenges and objectives.
After moving from his first bar to some amazing cocktail bars in Milan, Marco decided to tackle a new challenge and take his career to the next level by moving to London. Here he says he found his ‘fortune’ at Union Street Café, where his team have taught, and keep teaching him the best skills to achieve his dreams. Marco says that here ‘I had the honour to be part of the management team, transforming the already beautiful bar into an even more motivated space’.
His passions for the industry come from the love he feels for people, ‘I don’t actually have one particular person that I’m inspired by, I live in a world where knowing people is my bread and butter and I’m a firm believer that anyone can bring something new to the table, and we can learn from our guests who will hopefully become our friends after the initial ice is broken. I find my energy in our guests, and in trying to make their experiences out of this world’.
‘I believe that if you love your job, you will never work one day in your life’.
Michele was born in Bergamo, North East of Milan. This city is famous because of its split level with the old medieval town on top of a hill surrounded by protective city walls and the new city at the foot of the hill in the plains of Northern Italy.
Initially he started working in the hospitality industry when he moved to London in 2012, as a way to pay for university. However, he soon realised that he loved working in the sector and went on to achieve a Sommelier Diploma through the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommeliers).
Michele’s first position was as a Barista at the Hampshire Hog in Hammersmith. He stayed in that position for a relatively short time before becoming a waiter, and then a supervisor.
The most important role in his career thus far was his first management role at a little gastro pub in Primrose Hill, working with a close friend. Michele says that ‘the place is a family run pub with a strong emphasis on food. It was a tough job with many elements to be sorted out, the management team was composed of just the two of us and I was still studying at university at the time. I was glad we managed to make the place successful and created something interesting’.
After this, he moved to The Coal Shed Tower Bridge, and after six months was given an acting General Manager role for the very busy Christmas period. He was ‘involved in all aspects of the business and managed to build up strong bases for the future of the restaurant’.
There are many reasons why Michele is passionate about hospitality – he has focused his skills on beverages for most of his career and says ‘the discovery of new products and new trends always amazes me. It is an industry that never stops, always looking for the next step to be taken and that is what drives me the most. Of course, the people are another important part of the job. I am a very sociable person and cannot imagine myself working anywhere without daily contact with other people. I strive to mentor my team and anyone around me, I like to teach and support my colleagues as well as the guests who are looking for advice and recommendations. It is the most creative part of the job to deal with people’.