My father came to England from Naples on a boat in 1958. Born in 1928, he endured the very worst of the devastating circumstances that befell the Neapolitans during WW2 â€“ a period he spoke about to me only twice during his life. His trip, sponsored by the Italian and UK governments as the re-building of post war Europe gathered pace, was, to him, a supreme adventure. He spoke not a word of English, niente. His stay was intended to last for 6 months but he met an attractive girl 10 years his junior in Torquay, and never went home.
He was a sommelier my Dad, and later in life, a restaurant manager, working for some of the pioneers of the London food scene as it developed after the austerity of rationing. He hated the modern cult of the celebrity chef, and was quick to point out that the very best culinary maestros preferred to stay out of the limelight, running their crews with passion, and loving nothing more than creating great dishes from often humble, but always quality, fresh, ingredients. He worked 6 days a week most of his life, minimum 90 hours a week, often more.
He was difficult to please but always selfless. An old fashioned man whose family responsibilities subsumed all else. He died in 2006. He was my counsellor and his departure has left a terribly deep void. However, as I consider my life as a father after the recent arrival of my third child, I find myself considering more and more the teachings he left me, the wisdom, the irreplaceable stuff. He was a doer. He was an 18 carat doer my old man.
He taught me that families should break bread and eat together as often as possible. At a table, preferably with some Italian red wine, and without hurrying;
He taught me to cook well. To respect food, respect the producers and labourers that create it, and be parsimonious with leftovers and waste. He used to say there needâ€™nt be any waste, its laziness. He showed me how to cook outside â€“ to experience the unrivalled flavour of cooking over wood burnt down to embers;
He taught me that when a task is to be taken on (whatever it might entail), to plan, prepare, take time to accomplish it well, and do it with conviction;
He taught me how to upcycle. Decades before the concept was fashionable he was a pioneer of sustainable living. He upcycled everything. (His personal favourite was 1lb aluminium marmalade tins â€“ he gave those babies so many new lives it isnâ€™t true);
He tutored me in the virtues of compost. He had a system as sophisticated as anything Iâ€™ve seen in the 35 years since, based on scrap pallets, sliding front access hatches, and warmth generated by old carpets and discarded tent canvas. Man that compost was beautiful. (Upside â€“ as a young angler I had an endless supply of first class dendrobaenas and lobworms);
I saw him consume little but consume well. He taught me to consume nothing that that you cannot afford to pay for in cash. He told me to avoid borrowing;
He taught me to be loyal to family. Family comes first, however difficult that can be at times. Period;
As I reflect on my father I realise that his teachings were not overt. He did his stuff, and I watched. He used to say to me when I phoned to discuss cooking something Iâ€™d eaten with him, and I was in need of quantities and timings â€“ why do you not watch and learn. Learn by watching and doing not studying heâ€™d say.
If my father was still alive heâ€™d love the Do School.