Italian food varies wildly throughout Il Bel Paese. Tourists who visit only Rome, Florence or Venice will sample only a tiny share of the abundance that the entire country offers. Traditional recipes vary not only by Italy’s 20 regions, but also within each region.
Hence, a new concept in Italian restaurants was born in London: La Mamma Mia. Real Italian mothers and grandmothers are recruited from one of Italy’s 20 regions for a three-month stint. They bring their own traditional recipes based on their local cuisine. Some are ancient recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation.
The concept began when Peppe Corsaro, a Sicilian by birth who moved to London when he was 16, started yearning for his mother’s cooking. He was already a restauranteur, and one night, his friends jokingly suggested that he bring his mother to London to cook. When he called her, she said, “I’ll come tomorrow.”
A pop-up eatery was launched in 2018; today there are two restaurants and a deli. Anna Famà, Corsaro’s mother was the original mamma and has remained ever since, overseeing the operations and serving as ambassador for incoming mammas.
Each restaurant has three mammas, who are first screened in Italy. Selected candidates are then flown to London for a trial, after which they are given accommodation, a transportation card and a salary, comparable to that of a sous chef. The candidates are not professional chefs, but rather mammas and grandmammas, usually in their 60s and retired, who have loved to cook for their families and have never lived abroad before.
The mammas in residence bring their own menus, which are executed to perfection with the help of experienced kitchen staff. When the region of Emilia Romagna was featured, the menu included dishes prepared with tortellini, tagliatelle, ragù, prosciutto crudo and parmigiano reggiano. When Lazio was in the spotlight, the Eternal City’s four classic pasta dishes appeared: carbonara, amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and gricia. Lesser-known dishes filled out the menu: coda alla vaccinara (an oxtail stew), baccalà romana and saltimbocca alla romana.
The kitchens of the restaurants are visible from the street, so that passersby can see the mammas at work…possibly making pasta, which is made fresh daily on site. They mingle with customers and even dance with the guests. They serve delicacies to the customers and talk to them in their regional dialects, often exhorting them to finish their pasta.
La Mamma Mia serves a four-course meal: antipasti, pasta, second, and dessert. The 38-pound sterling price (about 45 euros or $50) includes an Aperol Spritz on arrival and a coffee on departure. Buon appetito!