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Philippa James visits La Locanda, Gisburn

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:46 20 April 2016

Cinzia and Maurizio Bocchi with Philippa James

Cinzia and Maurizio Bocchi with Philippa James

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Maurizio and Cinzia Bocchi combine Italian style with Lancashire ingredients.

PHOTOGRAPHY: KIRSTY THOMPSON

When Maurizio and Cinzia Bocchi opened their restaurant with a determination to serve traditional Italian cuisine not all the locals in the Ribble Valley got it. ‘My English was not so good,’ he laughs. ‘We put this salad on the menu, but no-one ordered it. It was Parma ham, lettuce, pine nuts with a warm balsamic dressing.’

Cinzia continues: ‘I made nice relationship with a teacher who came for meals. One day she said she felt bad but she wanted me to know it was not worm dressing, but warm! After this, then we sold the salads!’

This lovely couple met in Italy at a New Year’s Eve party in 1985. Maurizio had studied agriculture in Italy and Cinzia was an accountant. A year later he came over to Myerscough College and funded his studies by working in Carlo’s in Colne. He went from commis chef to senior sous chef and in 2000 he joined Bannister’s Bakery in Barrowford before the couple took over the company’s tea rooms.

Their hearts were set on a restaurant in the Ribble Valley and they fell in love with a coffee house near the Gisburn auction mart. Here, they met local producers supplying meat from Gazegill Organics, game from Ian Scott, chickens from Johnson and Swarbrick with eggs and dairy from Jimmy Frankland.

The first six months were tough - they wanted to stick to their own ideas on proper Italian cuisine. Any doubts were dispelled by friend and mentor, Ian Donald, who told Maurizio: ‘If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.’

Today, they La Locanda has a great reputation and Maurizio champions young women who want to enter what is still, predominantly, a male industry. That commitment extends to the couple currently sharing their home with four, 20-year-old Italian girls who are here to learn the trade at La Locanda and grapple with the English language. Maurizio is quick to point out there is a down side. ‘I never get in the bathroom,’ he complains. ‘I have to book one week in advance.’

In a few months, he is bringing the crème-de-la-creme of Italian female chefs over to cook a special, regional menu at the restaurant to inspire the girls and to learn from them. He praises the ‘female attention to detail.’

The couple don’t have children of their own but they say the four girls are like their own daughters. They attend college twice a week and are gaining confidence working away from home on a one year contract. Apparently, the local taxi-driver is so protective that, if they go to a disco, he will march in and round them up at an appointed hour, declaring it ‘home-time’!

When Cinzia became seriously ill in 2010 they took the difficult decision to let someone else run the restaurant and Maurizio went to work for a big group as a development chef for 18 months. Now they are back at La Locanda and the business has gone from strength to strength.

Ian O’Reilly, from Gazegill Organics, which featured in Lancashire Life back in 2011, and Maurizio are going over to Italy to look at cheese production as Ian is installing a cheese parlour at the farm.

Meanwhile, he is breeding pigs with a heavier fat content which Maurizio would like to use for charcuterie. ‘We want to get back to old, Italian foods but produced here in Lancashire.’

Happily, it works both ways. A friend with a restaurant in Italy uses Lancashire cheese in his dishes and Maurizo dreams of the day when Lancashire produce is on one of the 600 stalls at Europe’s biggest food market - in Italy, of course.

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