Some people found restaurants out of love. Others do it as a business. But Jacob Kenedy has managed both, turning his love affair with Italy into successful Soho joint, Bocca di Lupo, which has been showered with praise and twice awarded London’s best restaurant.
Kenedy’s love affair with Italy is deeply-entrenched thanks to childhood holidays spent at his family home in Sperlonga – between Rome and Naples – near where his Italian mother grew up. “Before I started school, before I finished school, pretty much every year of my life I’ve been to Italy” the London-born chef smiles. But it was after he graduated that a year-long jaunt around the country planted the seeds for Bocca di Lupo: “At the time, it was just a year of exploration – quite naughty, quite enjoyable – but in retrospect it was the research that became the backbone of Bocca” he says.
Indeed, the menu reads like a travel itinerary: the battuto (raw young beef seasoned only with oil) is a dish from Piedmont, the fennel salami recipe is from Tuscany, and the fried courgette fritters are a regional dish from Lazio. A menu clearly produced from commitment to ‘field research’ – no quick fixes, no fusion food, but a geographic documentation of the cuisines throughout the country.
At the time, it was just a year of exploration – quite naughty, quite enjoyable –
but in retrospect it was the research that became the backbone of Bocca
“When looking at a pasta dish, it’s important to pay attention to how the people in every region have always cooked it, because they’ve had generations to get it right.” Kenedy laughs. “A local pasta recipe and a local sauce recipe tend to go quite well together –usually, if you copy what they do in Italy, then it’ll probably turn out alright.”
“In general, lighter sauces which are less adhesive work better with finer pasta. And heavier, oilier sauces are better with chunkier pastas.” Kenedy explains. If you were in Bologna, people would rather die than eat ragu with spaghetti – it’s always with tagliatelle or tortellini” he says, before pausing for thought. “But hey, if you like spaghetti with bolognese then that’s just fine”, Kenedy laughs, stressing that he doesn’t have a favourite pasta dish, but likes “whatever is in front of me at that very moment. If it’s good.”
Not only does Kenedy capture Italy’s different regional cuisines through his pasta and sauce combinations, but he’s also able to chronicle the country’s history through the consistency and shape of the pasta itself: “The northern regions tend to use very thin egg pastas” he explains. “It’s because the north was always richer. It was a kind of status symbol. Eggs were expensive, and if your dough was thin, it showed that you had a lot of spare time to roll it.”
“Naples is where Italy had its first major industrialisation” Kenedy says. “So that’s where they have all the shapes – long pasta like spaghetti and tagliatelli, as well as the tubular pasta, made on new-fangled machinery.”
It’s important to pay attention to how the people in every region have always
cooked it, because they’ve had generations to get it right
“In the south, the pasta is made from semolina and water. Partly, it’s because the wheat in the south is harder, with higher-gluten content. But also because the region was poorer, historically. So water and semolina-based pasta like Puglia’s orecchiette is cheap and quick to make.”
It’s not just the pasta recipes which are important to Kenedy though. Across the road is Gelupo – a gelateria where he makes ice cream “the way I learned it in Gianni’s gelateria in Bologne”. Kenedy’s determination to recreate a genuine product has even resulted in a half-Italian staff force. The restaurateur laughs, commenting how he has become completely fluent since opening Bocca di Lupo – a sign that he’s a constant presence in the kitchen. Not the kind of boss to stand back and bask in the glory of his success.
“I’m at my happiest in the kitchen” Kenedy smiles. “In a kitchen, you work very closely together in a team. And when it’s a good team, it can be a very intimate experience. It’s a fast-paced, high-pressure environment which I respond to well. And at the end of the day, any anger is gone – there’s nothing left over.” He smiles. Perhaps nothing that is, except the feeling of satisfaction from serving a rare and authentic piece of Italy to another lucky room of diners.
Bocca Di Lupo
12, Archer Street