Chef Leo Bianchi and the Network of Italian Chefs in Bulgaria have turned Italian cuisine into medicine for the souls of Bulgarian health workers involved in the emergency
I am 47 years old and I come from Ancona. I have been living in Sofia, Bulgaria for 16 years now with my wife Lucia and our two little twins. I first visited Bulgaria in 1992, when my father and brother opened an Italian restaurant in Bourgas, on the Black Sea. It was more of a holiday experience than a work experience, but little by little I fell in love with this land, coming to work here, and so in 2005 I decided to move with Lucia and open our first restaurant. In the same year, I participated in Big Brother Bulgaria: I was the first foreigner to participate in this program and I stayed on the show until the final, but I came in second place. Thanks to the show I was able to do a Bulgarian cooking show on TV 7, I sang Deo, a Bulgarian singer and rapper, and with Maria Ilieva.
However, Italian cuisine and catering are my main passion. I have always wanted to promote Italian products and flavors abroad by offering original recipes.
During the confinement, my wife and I suddenly found ourselves with the premises closed. We took advantage of this forced break to write down our history and our potential: we also wanted to support our employees, without leaving them at home, but trying to share together a dark period like the one we were going through. The first month was really difficult, then the Bulgarian government helped us and allowed us to open the takeaways. Thanks to the customers who trusted us, we were able to set off again.
Just then, a Bulgarian colleague called me to ask if we could support, especially morally, the medical staff of the hospitals. This is how I had the idea of using my dream of spreading Italian cuisine as a support for the nursing staff.
I contacted all the Italian restaurateurs in the region, with whom I have a wonderful, anything but competitive relationship, and together we decided to offer around 40 meals a day to each hospital.
It was certainly not easy because we had little work and had to face expenses, but that did not discourage us. Italian producers and suppliers helped us by providing products, so that we could team up and share the burden of an initiative that was crucial for us.
We were trying to use the Italian supply chain, especially from southern Italy. Obviously you can’t talk about km 0 for all the products, especially if you work with Italian cuisine abroad, but we tried, at least for the products that didn’t need to be original. Here in Bulgaria, among other places, km 0 is not a widespread concept and it would perhaps be interesting for the population to know more about it.
We were very careful not to waste the ingredients we had in the kitchen, especially those given to us. This is a practice that is close to my heart in my restaurants, but even more so in this situation where solidarity had to be total and not waste a single sheet of what we had.
Overall it was a new experience for everyone that changed our lives forever.
Certainly, as an Italian community abroad, we have discovered that we are a united team and, above all, united. I do not deny that there were some disagreements, at the beginning we did not all have the same objectives, but we were all in such a tense moment that I do not want to judge anyone, on the contrary . However, it was a way to understand which colleagues put their hearts into what they were doing, and from now on, I know I have a community I can rely on.
In general, for me in particular, it has been fundamental, also because my own family has been affected by Covid and therefore I wanted to thank the health personnel in one way or another. In fact, I also brought food to the hospital where my father died, precisely because of the Covid. Obviously he didn’t know, and even the nursing staff didn’t think we were connected, but for me it was a way of taking care of him and thanking them.
It was a really cool experience. After our initiative, many other stores and restaurants have joined this chain of solidarity. The activity has now stopped, but we know that if there should be a new moment of need, more and more of us will be there to lend a hand. And it’s simple, all you need is good will and a good heart. And these are not lacking!
Slow Food Heroes is a funded project by the European Cultural Foundation,
with the contribution of the CRC Foundation.
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