Story by Sarah Stephenson

One of the joys of working at Jamie’s Italian is that we regularly arrange trips for staff, often to Italy, where they meet our suppliers and experience real Italian life – from a food and drink perspective, obviously! The adventures are allot of fun and a great chance for the staff to learn more about the wonderful produce that we serve at the restaurants and pass this knowledge onto our customers. I recently went on a trip and kept a diary when I was there.

We landed in Venice on a glorious Monday morning. There were nine of us all together: a representative from each of the 7 Jamie’s Italian restaurants plus Stan from Milton Sandford wines (the all knowing group leader) and me!

Now this trip was truly amazing on lots of levels. We laughed – proper, good for the soul belly laughs, plenty of times a day. We learned about wine making, cheese making, Grappa making. We learned that the Italians are so generous with their time and almost live to share their experience and knowledge with anyone wanting to listen. I’m confident that I could write a book about our 3 days in Italy but the highlight for me personally was really understanding. I thought I understood the concept of Jamie’s Italian pretty well but after day one of this trip, it dawned on me that the concept of Jamie’s Italian is based on so much more than simple, rustic, great tasting dishes.

I was blown away by the first lunch – the owner of the tiny Osetaria with a smile so infectious you couldn’t help but smile back as he described what we’d be eating with such gusto and vigour while gesticulating wildly in a way only the Italians can do. It didn’t matter that we didn’t understand what it was he was describing – his passion made it all sound so delicious! He presented us with huge jars of his homemade Grappa but his pride was such that really he could have been introducing us to his grandchildren. He ladled it into glasses – grappa with sage, with rosemary, with quince, with mint and herbs and, finally, the piece de resistance – grappa infused with raisins.

Meeting the Anselmis and, later on in the trip, Lisa Tosolini and then Davide and Francesca, the husband wife combo who supply our prosecco, It dawned on me that these people just MUST be our suppliers – the passion is in their blood because they’re continuing the traditions of wine, grappa and prosecco making that have been passed down to them through the generations by their father’s and grandfathers. Their businesses are small but big enough for us and immaculately looked after. They are wonderful ambassadors for what they do. Their products are a little different and won’t be found behind the bars of other high street brands but that’s what makes Jamie’s Italian special and being able to support family tradition in this way means really embracing the essence of Italian culture.

We were taken out to dinner on the first evening by Luigi Anselmi. He’d organised a 6 course feast – a chef’s showcase of everything fresh, seasonal and local – and a different Anselmi wine with each course. I mentioned to Stan that I’d never expected to feel quite as in awe of everything as I did. Stan gave me a knowing look and just replied “Italy seeps into you”. I knew EXACTLY what he meant.
Italy continued to ‘seep’ into me as we had lunch in a tiny Osetaria in the back streets of Udine the next day. An Osetaria that is so basic it has no kitchen. The food was prepared behind a simple counter and there was no menu. There were no plates either; you just ate off a napkin. Out came all sorts of wooden platters of meats and local cheeses as well as plenty of local wine; so local it had no label on the bottles – you just trusted it was going to be fantastic. It was so beautifully unpretentious I wanted to cry!

The whole trip was such an experience and really these were just the highlights for me. I guess what will stay with me and what I personally got out of these fascinating 3 days is a phrase the Italians use – ‘L’arte d’arrangiarsi’ – the art of making something out of nothing. No pretentions, no fuss, just back to basics – simple ingredients combined with passion and tradition and it’s this that forms the recipe for Jamie’s Italian. Now I really understand!

About the author: Sarah Stephenson does Recruitment and Communications for Jamie’s Italian
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