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Chef Profile: Meet Maria Stefania Losanno

Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery, tells Alice Ryan about falling in love with food in her native Italy, pursuing her culinary ambitions in the UK, and collaborating with Michelin starred Mark Poynton

What made you want to pursue a career as a chef?

I always loved to cook for friends. I worked front-of-house for many years, but longed to go into the kitchen. When I cook, I focus, I think, I create. It has a relaxing effect on me; I feel content.

Tell us about the first pro kitchen you cooked in. Was the famous ‘baptism of fire’?

It was a real baptism of fire! I was working at Villa Grazianella near Montepulciano, my hometown. My chef there had worked in New York and introduced me to Stefano Azzi when he came to dine, they both worked together in New York.

I told him that I was planning to go to catering college but he saw me at work and suggested I come to train with him instead. I had an amazing time with him and learnt so much.

Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery (26244868)
Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery (26244868)
Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery (26244869)
Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery (26244869)
Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery (26244866)
Maria Stefania Losanno, the new head chef at Cambridge Cookery (26244866)

Give us the highlights of your career to date. Can you share a stand-out memory?

It was being offered the chance to work with Stefano. That was my big break. I had already decided to come to the UK to improve my English so I soaked up all he had to teach me and then told him I had wanted to go to the UK. The decision to leave to come to Cambridge was a big one.

What brought you to Cambridge Cookery?

I moved to Cambridge because I had a friend here and it seemed less scary than London! I worked at Cotto, which was a great experience, but I felt I needed more exposure to English which I didn’t really get by working in the kitchen. I knew Cambridge Cookery and their amazing food, so I contacted the owner, Tine, and we met up for a chat. Tine offered me exactly what I needed: a chance to work as head chef, but also to take a few shifts front-of-house to improve my English.

VELVET: Swedish cinnamon buns, step by step. Liz Young, at Cambridge Cookery School . Picture: Keith Heppell. (26248813)
VELVET: Swedish cinnamon buns, step by step. Liz Young, at Cambridge Cookery School . Picture: Keith Heppell. (26248813)
Cambridge Cookery Column Jan 18 (26248687)
Cambridge Cookery Column Jan 18 (26248687)

What makes Cambridge Cookery's culinary style one of a kind, would you say?

It is really high quality but simple food. It is based on seasonal and local ingredients, which is exactly what we do in Italy. Tine is Scandinavian, but has spent a lot of time in Italy and organises culinary trips to Rome and Le Marche - so we have a very similar approach to what goes on the menu.

Seasonal, locally sourced ingredients are at the core of the menu, aren't they? Give us a flavour.

For my last pop-up I cooked traditional Tuscan dishes such as ribollita, using all local winter vegetables, and when we ran our sell-out event to celebrate the fact the Prosecco region has received its World Heritage status I made a risotto with fresh prawns, lime and vanilla. So it’s food I respect and understand from Italy. Guests told me they had never eaten such a risotto outside Italy! It is not easy to make a truly outstanding risotto.

If our readers haven’t eaten at Cambridge Cookery before, what should they order?

Our sourdough with sustainable Hampshire smoked trout, which is like the best smoked salmon you have ever eaten, our creamy scramble made from local free range eggs, and perhaps with some black pudding or crispy Dingly Dell bacon on the side. It is a dish which is found on so many café menus, but here the quality of the ingredients is so amazing that it becomes a completely different eating experience. I also love our Swedish cinnamon buns! Tine has shared her grandmother’s recipe with me and I am now an expert at baking this typical Scandinavian pastry.

What's on the menu for February? Whet our appetite. . .

We love local Jerusalem artichoke and celeriac so there will be some amazing soups. These humble root vegetables taste so amazing when treated with respect and love. We also use a lot of local cabbages in our big counter salads, and combine them with garlic, chilli and, at this time of year, Sicilian blood oranges.

Within the culinary world, who inspires you?

Locally, Michelin starred chef Mark Poynton. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark is joining us at Cambridge Cookery, as it means I will have the honour to be his sous chef for our Friday and Saturday nights. I have worked with Mark on some of his pop-ups here and it was amazing.

Worldwide it has to be Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who received three stars at his Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana. His style, inspired by jazz music and art, is amazing.

What’s the most memorable meal or dish you’ve eaten?

I went to Paris this autumn to learn more about French food and I fell in love with it. Now I understand just how amazing their techniques are. The highlight was three Michelin star restaurant Astrance, chef Pascal Bardot’s place. I had the best meal I have ever eaten.

His signature dish is an ‘egg’ which you drink, but it is actually a foam made from milk and jasmine and it was simply amazing. I also had fantasticscallops and oysters which were lightly grilled and served with a Japanese radish purée.

Which three ingredients could you not cook without?

Good Tuscan olive oil, naturally! Onions. And fresh pasta.

We know you’re passionate about your work. What’s the reward of being a chef, for you?

I am happy when customers tell me my food has made them happy! It’s the same in a restaurant as when you cook for your own family. Cooking and feeding others is an act of generosity and love.It’s quite primitive but so powerful in a society where so many things come ready-made and have no real meaning.

Do you have any guilty food pleasures to confess?

That would be peanut butter. . . I never had it in Italy but it is fantastic on toasted sourdough!

Cambridge Cookery is at Purbeck Road, Cambridge CB2 8EB. Follow on social media, visit cambridgecookery.com and call (01223) 247620 to find out more.

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