Florence Chef Swap - Paul's Travel Diary

28 June 2015

To celebrate Edinburgh's 50 years of twinning with Florence, Edinburgh Chef Paul Wedgwood recently visited the beautiful Italian city to take up a short residency in a local restuarant and learn more about the links between these two great cities.

Paul has given us access to his Florence travel diary to share some of his experiences. Read on to find out more about his time in Edinburgh's twin city. 

Florence Skyline

[Looking down on the beautiful city of Florence toward the Sante Croce]

Sunday 21st June

Excited is the word of the day as I’m travelling to a new city to learn new cooking skills and have the opportunity to represent Edinburgh in Florence, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their twinning, while taking up residency at a Florentine restaurant.

On arrival in this stunning city, I meet the general manager Colin – we have been in contact for the past month arranging the menu so it’s nice to finally meet. I am given a tour of the busy restaurant, Finisterrea– the electric atmosphere has me keen to start straight away. The kitchen is small - surprising considering they cater for around 1200 people daily! I am introduced to Head Chef Maria who runs a “well-oiled machine”.

At the end of my first day I retire outside with an ice cold beer and the best pizza I have ever tasted.

Monday 22nd June

Today I will begin to prepare for the Gala Lunch tomorrow.

My first job is to prepare the haggis, which the Finisterra team seem very interested to watch and I feel privileged to show them how it’s done. I finish the haggis off by mincing the cooked offal with Italian herbs before tying it off in front of my captive audience - nearly all of the  Finisterrea team is watching by this point!

The rest of the day’s preparation goes really well and everything is on track.

Tuesday 23rd June

I’m looking forward to feeding the Gala Lunch attendees at Finisterrea today. We have a 7 course Italian/Scottish fusion menu for our dignified guests, including the Mayor of Florence and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. The menus look fantastic; Colin even asks for my opinion on how the tables are set and how it’s presented. I really feel part of this close knit team already.

The 2pm lunch is looking set until the bag with the haggis in bursts but thankfully I have a spare or the main attraction would have been ruined.  I remove it from the oven, the pipers start playing and we parade the haggis through to be addressed, in front of TV cameras and press photographers. After the meal I meet everyone and I’m taken back by the positive feedback. I take a moment to thank the Italian and Scottish producers who provided such wonderful ingredients for our meal.

After a clean down, we finish early and have a well-earned night out round the beautiful city of Florence.

Florence Chef Swap Collage

[Preparing the haggis, neeps and tatties for the Gala Lunch and piping in the haggis with Chef Maria]

Wednesday 24th June

Today is “Aperitivo Scozzese” where we are to create some Scottish inspired canapés  for 150 people including the Mayor of Florence, the Lord Provost and other dignitaries who are keen to taste more of our fusion cuisine.

All of the dishes turn out perfectly and we are given more great feedback. The remaining food is enjoyed by the team which, needless to say, goes down a treat!

Thursday 25th June

Today I will learn the techniques used for making pizza in the Pizza Kitchen!

I am greeted by two chefs, Calogero and Essa who give me the task of grating mozzarella – mountains of it. Calogero then gives me a lesson in dough making, flipping it over his head and stretching it from one hand to the other – a true expert!

The first check of the day buzzes in the printer. I stretch the dough making the crust first, flip over and start stretching it. “Not bad” I am told; now to top it with a fresh tomato sauce followed by grated mozzarella. “Bzz”, the printer is busy now; Essa grabs all of the checks with one hand whilst finishing the toppings with another. “Bzz”, Essa is now paddling the pizza into the oven whilst Calogero is stretching the bases and I am saucing and adding toppings, am I part of this team? I think so!

By the end of the 3 hour lunch service we had made 300 pizzas! I have a new respect for pizza now - it’s an art from start to finish and something I would love to spend a bit more time on.

Friday 26th June

I start very early this morning and work with Maria who gives me a pasta masterclass – this and the other techniques I have learned will definitely inspire me in my own kitchen.

Later, I am treated to a guided tour of Florence by Davide, an assistant manager at the restaurant and fully qualified guide. It’s a privilege to learn so much more about this fantastic city that Edinburgh is twinned with.

The Florence Chef Swap has been a wonderful experience and I can’t thank everyone at Finisterrea, the City of Edinburgh and all involved in this adventure enough. I hope that we in Edinburgh can appreciate the continuing bonds between our cities for many more years to come.

Ciao, buonanotte

Has this got your tastebuds tingling? Take a look at our Food and Drink section for great places to eat and drink in Edinburgh.