Brexit may force this 81-year-old chef back to Italy

Brexit may force this 81-year-old chef back to Italy

Filippo Falcone, 81, still cooks six days a week in West End restaurant

Filippo Falcone is an Italian and the rules have changed since the UK.

By Richard Vines
Filippo Falcone is anxiously waiting to see if he has the right to settle in the UK. 

Nothing surprising about that. He’s Italian and the rules have changed since the UK. decided to quit the European Union. 

But he might be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed. Chef Falcone left Italy for London in 1958. He is 81 years old and still in the kitchen every day, cooking for restaurant guests in the city that has been his home for more than six decades. His house is here, his family including a great granddaughter is here, and he rarely returns to Italy even for a holiday.

“This is my home,” Filippo says. “It’s upsetting.”

He’s far from alone in this situation: Veteran French chefs Pierre Koffmann and Claude Bosi, both married to English women, are among many in the restaurant industry who are belatedly applying for the right to remain.

Filippo says he originally arrived in the U.K. on a work permit and was no longer required to apply for an extension after five years. “I could have applied for a passport, but I am Italian and i didn’t see the point,” he says. But if he’s unhappy, it doesn’t really show, and he’s smiling and animated when he talks about his long and interesting life in the U.K.

Preparing and serving food is in his blood. His parents ran a trattoria serving farmers and workers at Roseto Valfortore in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

“I grew up interested in cooking and always stayed when my mamma cooked,” he says. “Quite a few people would come and they would say, `Signora Filomena, whatever you cook for your sons and your family, it is OK for us.’ We were five boys and three sisters. I left school around the age of 13. I used to do a bit of everything. My family had a mill for flour, the water one, and I worked there.”

But he was then called up for military service and decided to move to England, where his sister was working. It was cold and foggy, but he immediately fell in love with the country and was particularly struck by how ordered things were, even bus queues.

“I loved the discipline,” he says. “Now it’s not the same. You are at the bus stop, you are first, you are last and all this changed. I don’t like it. I get upset. They even push you and I say, `You have got no manners.’”

All right, the food wasn’t great back in those days. Many English people ate spaghetti out of a can. Even at the restaurant where he started as a kitchen porter, pasta arrived in large boxes rather than being freshly made. He quickly rose to work as a chef and had to accept that even friendly and polite customers might say pasta was undercooked because it was al dente.

His early days were spent at a restaurant called Stockpot, on Panton Street, near Trafalgar Square. Sixty years later, that is where he is cooking even now, though it is called Tasting Sicily Enzo’s Kitchen and the cooking has certainly changed somewhat. Stockpot was popular in its time, and Filippo opened several other branches as head chef and even became a major shareholder in the company.

He now works for chef and restaurateur Enzo Oliveri and is a valued member of the Tasting Sicily team.

“Filippo is a very nice, kind person and seeing his journey within the restaurant, he is unique,” Oliveri says. “He’s an inspiration for the whole of the staff and he is trustworthy and reliable. He is a real asset.”

Filippo says he rises at 6 a.m. each morning without needing an alarm clock and works at the restaurant six days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. “I have nice hours,” he says. “But sometimes I’ve got to stay late because if they are busy, I won’t leave.”

Does he have advice for the younger chefs? “Yes,” he says and then laughs. “But they won’t listen.”

He’s engaging company and something of an Anglophile. He’s even grown to like custard, which he found weird when he arrived.

The only cloud on the horizon remains his uncertain status in the U.K.

“We pay tax here,” he says. “I got my daughters here. And I don’t know what to do. It is ridiculous.”

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