Claudio leads our front of house team and is passionate about wine and coffee. He grew up in the countryside outside Naples in Italy and, like all Italians, was born with a love of good food and drink. He’s been living in Wales for a few years now and say that the countryside and coast remind him of home.
In this month’s Meet the Team, we caught up with Claudio and asked him a few questions about his inspirations and his journey to Sosban.
Who inspired your love of wine and food, to make you decide to become a restaurant manager?
I grew up in the Italian countryside near Naples and just 10 miles from the sea. Like all Italian families, food was a major part of our lives. We grew vegetables, kept chickens and my grandfather owned a vineyard. During harvest, the whole family would get involved picking grapes.
Two of my brothers became chefs and my sister is a pastry chef. It was my older brother, who was like a father to me after we lost our Dad, who inspired me to find a career in food and hospitality.
My Mum used to tease me as a child because although I loved food, I didn’t like getting dirty from cooking – I cared too much about my appearance! I felt I could never become a chef because of the messiness but that I was better suited for working in front of house!
Where did you grow up and did you cook as a child?
I grew up with amazing local ingredients and I used to sneak around my mother’s kitchen and steal the food from a young age!
My grandmother was an amazing cook. She made an incredible silky passata from home-grown tomatoes and would bake sourdough bread in a wood oven. Our after school treat was to have still-warm bread smeared with her delicious passata and local olive oil!
Where did you train?
I trained in hospitality for five years and worked part-time as a waiter in a local pizzeria.
Once I had finished my hospitality degree, I went to Venice to work for a top restaurant. The same restaurant regularly catered for events at The Vatican. I was only 17 or 18 at the time and was picked as the youngest member of the team to work at some of these events serving Pope Benedicto XVI at events that sometimes included world leaders. It was an incredible opportunity to have at such a young age!
What brought you to the UK?
An Italian friend of mine went to work for a renowned Italian restaurant in Leicestershire and I always talked to him about joining him one day, but my life in Italy was settled with work and my partner. One day in 2013, he called me up and gave me an ultimatum – come now or never! I dropped everything for the opportunity!
I couldn’t speak any English, which meant I was just running plates from the kitchen to the waiters and I realised I had to learn English in order to serve customers properly. It wasn’t easy as 21 out of 22 staff at the restaurant were Italian!
Luckily, the restaurant provided English lessons for two hours a day outside service and when that ended I took private lessons for six months. I really wanted to get my English up to scratch and to meet English people. I also studied wine during this time and built up my skills as a sommelier.
I was ambitious and after a while applied for jobs at two Michelin-Star restaurants – Le Manoir and Gidleigh Park in Devon. I was offered both but decided to take up the opportunity at Gidleigh because it was as part of the sommelier team – after 18 months I was head waiter.
Later I had the opportunity to move to The Grove at Narberth and I fell in love with Wales! The countryside and proximity to the coast reminded me of my home in Italy.
When did you join Sosban?
I heard that Sosban were looking for a Restaurant Manager and as it was only 40 minutes from home, I decided to go and meet Head Chef Andrew Sheridan and try his food. I was struck from the moment I walked into the impressive building and bowled over when I tried Andrew’s food. I remember he gave me the Hay Baked Celeriac to try and I thought ‘Wow, I’ve got to come and work with this chef!’
My focus here is working alongside Andrew to provide a memorable dining experience for all our customers. It’s a pleasure to work alongside such a talented chef!
What are your favorite ingredients?
Coffee is part of my culture being from Naples. A good espresso made with pure Arabica coffee beans is part of our identity and I drink as many as 12 espressos a day!
I did work as a barista once and learned how challenging it is to make a really good cup of coffee!
I love wine too, of course. My father recognized I had a good palate and he knew I was picky, from a young age! He allowed me to taste and give my opinion on the wine from our family vineyard and also the wine we bought regularly from a local vineyard.
What are you top drinks recommendation from Wales?
Wales is producing some fantastic drinks now from beer to wine and from gin to rum. I’m impressed by Barti Ddu Rum https://www.bartirum.wales/ made in Pembrokeshire by seasoning the best Caribbean rum with local botanicals including laver seaweed.
I wouldn’t normally think of myself as an IPA drinker, but I’m a big fan of Tin Works Brewery’s Dafen IPA https://www.tinworksbrewery.co.uk/our-beers/dafen-ipa/ made right here in Llanelli.
What’s your favorite dish on Sosban’s menu
My favorite of Andrew’s dishes is Cod Five Ways because it’s so evocative of eating fish by the sea with the smell of salt in the air. It reminds me of happy times when I first worked in Devon eating fish & chips with friends on the coast.
What would be your last supper?
Taglioni with clams and white wine sauce accompanied by a fragrant glass of Greco di Tufo from my native Campania.
What’s the restaurant gadget you couldn’t live without?
My Coravin wine bottle open which allows you to pour your favorite wine by the glass and preserves the quality of the wine in the bottle.
When you’re not working you’re….?
I like to look after my appearance so spend lots of time in the gym! I also love exploring the UK by visiting some of its top restaurants and exploring vineyards. I treat myself to dining at Michelin-starred restaurants every couple of months but would say that Michael Wignall’s menu at Gidleigh Park have been one of my favourite dining experiences of all.