Chef Leo Bianchi and the network of Italian chefs in Bulgaria have made Italian cuisine a medicine for the souls of Bulgarian health workers involved in the emergency
I am 47 years old and native of Ancona. I have been living in Sofia, Bulgaria for 16 years now, with my wife Lucia and our two little twins. I visited Bulgaria for the first time in 1992, when my father and my brother opened an Italian restaurant in Burgas, on the Black Sea. It was more of a vacation experience than a work experience, but slowly 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 the Big Brother Bulgaria: I was the first foreigner to participate in that program and I stayed in the show until the final, but I came in second place. Thanks to the program I was able to make a Bulgarian cooking program 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 make Italian products and flavors known abroad by proposing original recipes.
During the lockdown my wife and I suddenly found ourselves with the premises closed. We used this forced pause to put down on paper our story and our potential: we wanted to support our employees too, 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 provided some help and allowed us to open the takeaway. Thanks to the customers who gave us confidence, we were able to start again.
Right at that time a Bulgarian colleague called me to ask if we could support, especially morally, the medical staff of the hospitals. That’s how I came up with the idea of using my dream of spreading Italian cuisine as a support for healthcare personnel.
I contacted all the Italian restaurateurs in the area, with whom I have a wonderful relationship, anything but competitive, and together we decided to offer about 40 meals a day to each hospital.
It certainly wasn’t easy because we had little work and had to meet expenses, but that didn’t discourage us. Italian producers and suppliers helped us by providing products, so 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 products, especially if you work with Italian cuisine abroad, but we tried, at least for products that didn’t have to be original. Here in Bulgaria, among other things, km 0 is not a very widespread concept and perhaps it would be interesting to have the population learn more about it.
We were very careful not to waste the ingredients we had in the kitchen, especially those that were donated to us. It’s a practice I hold dear in my restaurants, but even more so in this situation, where solidarity had to be complete and not waste a single leaf of what we had available.
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 and, above all, supportive team. I don’t deny that there were some disagreements, at the beginning we didn’t all have the same goals, but we were all in such a tense moment that I don’t feel like judging anyone, on the contrary. However, it was a way to understand which colleagues use their heart in the things they do, and from now on I know I have a community I can count on.
In general, for me in particular it has been fundamental, also because my own family has been touched by Covid and so I wanted to thank the health staff in some way. In fact, I also brought food to the hospital where my father passed away, precisely because of Covid. Obviously, he didn’t know about it, and even the health care staff didn’t think we were ever connected, but for me it was a way to take care of him and thank them.
It was a really cool experience. After our initiative, many other stores and restaurants joined this chain of solidarity. The activity has now stopped, but we know that should there be a new moment of need, there will be more and more of us willing to lend a hand. And it’s simple, all you need is good will and a good heart. And these are not lacking!