Praise ye, golden arches
Funny ramblings from my girlfriend.
When my boyfriend, Daniele and I tell people that we met in a 24-hour McDonald’s, we’re usually met by gasps of mock-horror. That and, “You should sooo get married under the Maccy’s golden arches!” (which I’m not altogether opposed to).
That’s the thing about being a chef (an Italian one, especially) – people aren’t quite sure if you’re even allowed in McDonald’s. I, for one, had always assumed it was a bit like the way the police get regularly drugs-tested, imagining a world where chefs are forced to line up pre-service to be checked for signs of fast food consumption (fluorescent yellow cheese strung slyly across one’s tooth; the unmistakable stench of a donner kebab exuding from one’s gob).
Anyway, look. Daniele is an excellent chef. And he’ll kill me if I don’t caveat the McDonald’s thing with this:
It was around midnight when we met and I, being about 300 gins deep into my ritual Friday night work drinks, had taken myself off to the Maccy’s on the corner to try and repent some of my boozy sins. Daniele, on the other hand, had just finished a gruelling fourteen-hour shift at the swanky tapas restaurant that happened to sit right underneath my office.
Empty-stomached and with nowhere else to go before he himself embarked on a night out with colleagues, he found himself in the local McDonald’s where, unbeknownst to him (poor lad), he was about to be accosted by a very drunk English girl who thought he looked quite dishy.
“Saying our little silent prayers to the Big M for orchestrating our lovely, foodie relationship…”
The rest, as they say, is… well a bit of a miracle really. Four years later and we’re still together, despite the odds – surely – being against us. Did we really meet in a McDonald’s? We’ll ask each other, bemused, from time to time. It just seems so random, so utterly bizarre. And yet here we are. Two people obsessed with really good food, saying our little silent prayers to the Big M for orchestrating our lovely, foodie relationship.
And, by goodness, what a foodie relationship it has been. I’ll never forget the first time Daniele took me to his hometown of Naples, where to say ‘food is life’ is truly an understatement. Before we’d even left the airport I’d already tried the best cake I’d ever eaten – a plump syrupy sponge, soaked to the hilt in rum – glistening, sweet, sticky and boozy; a truly celestial thing.
Still to this day I find myself fantasising crudely about that first bite as though it were something much more debauched. The cake is called ‘baba’, by the way; if you ever find yourself in Naples let it be the first thing you try, followed swiftly by what I can promise will be one of the best espressos you’ve ever had.
The rest of that trip involved me “ooohing” and “ahhing” and texting my mum and Italian stepdad with pictures of this newfound and utterly heavenly Neapolitan grub. Of steaming plates of linguine topped with delicate, parsley-flecked clams, of hunks of sourdough bread sitting under winey white beans and fat orange mussels. Of baba after baba, and of course, the best pizza on the planet (my personal favourite is Salsiccia e Friarielli – hand-cut sausage meat with a leafy vegetable that’s spiked through with fennel and chilli – buonissima!).
Everything just tasted so good. The way Daniele’s mum spent the entire morning preparing gnocchi by hand; light, silky dumplings to later be drenched in a rich, slow-cooked ragu. The way the pizza dough was stretchy and light; soft, pillowy bubbles forming in the crust, fragrant truffle cream gathering in pools around slivers of porcini mushrooms in the centre.
This wasn’t my first dalliance with Italian food, of course. As I mentioned, my stepdad is from Italy – Tuscany – but it was my first time in the south which, like every region of Italy, offers its own utterly unique experience.
And that’s what Daniele and I often say – we’re not unwise to the fact that our relationship was built largely off the back of us both being from foodie families. My mum’s an amazing cook too, a butcher’s daughter who regales tales of growing up eating steak and kidney suet puddings, and ham shanks, tender and gelatinous, cooked slowly on peppery yellow split peas. Like my granny’s, my mum’s style of cooking is all unctuousness and lip-smacking goodness. Some personal favourites include her fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks (heady with the flavour of woody, roasted garlic), her sweet, aromatic orange cakes, and her rare and tangy chimichurri steaks.
All this to say that Daniele and I really were – and are – united by our love of food. The kind of couple that’s usually talking about what to have for lunch as we eat breakfast, or what to have for dinner as we’re using crusty bread to mop up the pasta sauce from our plates at lunch. Basically, we’re always thinking about the next meal.
And would you look at that?! That kind of brings us nicely to where we are now, introducing you guys to this fresh pasta and authentic Italian fare delivery service. The Next Meal let’s Daniele use both the extensive skills he’s acquired over the past decade working as a chef and his rich foodie past in creating the kind of dishes that can feel hard to come by these days. And then there’s little old me, a copywriter from the North East of England, who’ll be showing up here for the occasional food-based rant. Oh – and who somehow managed to nab herself an Italian chef at midnight in a central-London McDonalds, then to persuade him four years later to move back to her hometown with her and start a business.
Not bad going for a Friday night piss-up, I’d say.
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