“I was born in Varese, in Lombardy, 40km (25 miles) north of Milan. My hometown is a 20-minute drive to the Swiss border. My parents divorced when I was six years old, and I lived with my maternal grandmother during the week and saw my mum on the weekends. “My grandmother was not a good cook, but a few dishes she did well, like gnocchi . On Sundays, I made cakes and pies with my mum.” So how did you learn to love food? “My mother remarried and my stepfather was very passionate about cooking. He was like a father to me – from the south of Italy. He was in the insurance business and practically every night my mum cooked dinner parties at home, for him to entertain his clients. “This is where I learned hospitality, and at nine years old I started to help my mum by setting the table, and later preparing the ingredients and checking the recipe for her. “It was her way of preventing me from watching television or playing video games. “My paternal grandmother was much older, she had been through two wars, and raised a lot of family members. She kept two hams in the fridge – one she served to guests, and a nicer one for us to eat. She raised three generations with the same pasta, the same sauce, very practical. “While my father’s side of the family, in northern Italy, didn’t have a deep culture of cooking, they knew which shops to buy good food from. “For Christmas, in southern Italy, families start cooking on December 22, whereas in northern Italy, maybe one dish was home-made, the rest was bought from shops that only made one thing, like Christmas cake , or candied chestnuts.” Korean fast food pioneer in Hong Kong builds on her mother’s legacy When did you get into cooking? “When I was 14 years old, I had to decide what to study. I wasn’t academic and wanted to do something practical. I thought I might like cooking. I went to a private culinary school 70km from my home. The first year I lived in a dorm, but I had too much fun and my mum had to take me back. So, the second year, I had to take the bus at 6.15am, arrive at the pier, take a ferry across the lake, and then another bus to get to school by 7.45am.” Where else did you study? “I did five years of culinary school, and then at 19 years old I went to another culinary school called Alma, which was founded by Gualtiero Marchesi, who codified the way of cooking. Before, Italian cuisine was very rustic, but he elevated it into an elegant cuisine. “As part of the programme I worked six months in a restaurant and I got to work at the three-Michelin-star Uliassi, under chef Mauro Uliassi. Kitchens can be rude and difficult, not really happy, but in Uliassi, happiness comes first, and if you’re happy then you work better. You don’t concentrate on the sacrifices you make, but the results that you get. I had good synergy with them and worked with them for two years.” What did you learn there? “I still use recipes I learned there that are 50 or 70 years old, like sauces. These are fundamentals that you can use and then build on. I also learned to respect others; there were people from Bangladesh, Canada and Japan who worked in the kitchen, and when you find people with passion, they can transfer the passion to you.” When did you come to Hong Kong? “I arrived in 2010. I knew about the city because I had friends who opened Domani for Uliassi. I first worked at Spasso, then moved to Domani for two years. After the restaurant closed I worked at Post 97, which later became an Italian restaurant [Il Posto 97]. I really enjoyed working at Isono and Vasco at PMQ, but the location was not right. “When that closed, in 2016, I was desperate to find another job and a friend helped me get work at Buenos Aires Polo Club . I started the day before it opened. I had never worked in a steakhouse before. But I was willing to try it and, a year later, we opened Osteria Marzia .” Do you have any tips on making pasta? “In Italy, we make pasta when it’s raining because it’s more humid. Hong Kong is actually the perfect place to make pasta. It’s also best to make it on a wooden chopping board because it retains the humidity. “Another tip is to cook the right shape pasta for the right sauce . You don’t use rigatoni with clams because the rigatoni might catch the entire clam shell, so that’s why you need to use long pasta like spaghetti. “Also, each pasta has a different cooking time. Don’t follow what is written on the packaging or the pasta will be overcooked. Cook the pasta two minutes less than the instructions say because by the time you have tossed it in the sauce, the pasta will be cooked. “ Buy good pasta, not commercial . Some people think pasta is expensive, but we don’t eat more than 100g per portion. A small production of pasta is better than industrial pasta; it’s actually healthier because the flour is better, it’s not bleached too much and not too smooth. “Commercial pasta is yellow because the dough passes through a machine to make the shape and the heat from the machine cooks the dough. That’s why the pasta doesn’t absorb any more flavour from the sauce. We use pastas that are made in small quantities to ensure quality. Everyone now can have caviar, but caviar shouldn’t be like that. It’s the same with truffles – everyone can have truffles, but the quality of the truffles has dropped.” What ingredient do you like to cook with? “I love cooking seafood, but more than that I love discovering new seafood. For example, we have red mullet in Italy, so what can I get in Hong Kong that is similar? It’s finding what the market can give you and opening up your mind. Chefs like me think the fish in Italy is better than it is in Hong Kong, but that’s because we are attached to our memories of what we think is better.” Like what you read? Look for more food and drink in SCMP Post Magazine .