Monday, 30 October 2006
Alex Horne - 30th October 2006
It was never going to be hard to find an Italian living in London. My next door neighbours on two of the three sides (I live in a ground floor flat) are from Italy and there's a Mr Pizza by Kensal Rise Station – they're bound to be Italian. In fact one of my neighbours told me recently that Italians are like parsley – they grow everywhere. I think it was parsley anyway. Does that grow anywhere? Either way, you get the point; it's easy to locate an Italian.
Especially when they work in a café called Il Pronto 'A Mangia on Buckingham Palace Road where the only fizzy drinks you can buy are made by a company called Sanpellegrino. We'd only actually gone in for a coffee to celebrate a Syrian but it seemed churlish to miss such an obvious opportunity.
It was my turn. I waited till it was quiet and uncertainly asked one of the two men (real men, over forty years old – not young childlike men like us) behind the counter if I could talk to them. They didn't see why not so I explained the project. "Ah!" one of them exclaimed as if this happened every day. "You'll be wanting to talk to Piedro!"
He was right. I did want to talk to Piedro. He's a 68 year old Italian chef who has lived just off the Edgware Road since 1967. "I have a famous Italian name!" he said, beaming, and wrote it in block capitals in our Panini-sticker-style funpack: Piedro Magnavacca. Literally translated – Peter, the Great Cow.
Unfortunately, we were quickly interrupted by customers demanding things other than stories from Piedro Magnavacca. I did manage to find out that his Great Great Great Great Great Great (Cow) Grandfather was the Count of Genoa in the 14th Century. He cooks full English breakfasts and likes fish and chips but thinks it's hard to find good ones any more. He also likes Yorkshire puddings.
But that was pretty much all we had time for. Italian chefs are busy people. But I'd got what I came for. And you never want too much parsley on your pasta, do you?