Before coronavirus hit, Italian-born chef Andrea Vignali spent his days in the kitchen at Melbourne institution Grossi Florentino, where he’d been working for five years. Then, suddenly, everything changed.
The restaurant shut up shop in March, along with proprietor Guy Grossi’s other spots (Grill, Cellar Bar, Arlechin and Ombra Salumi Bar), and Vignali was stood down. (The Grossi group has since launched a takeaway menu, but it’s operating with reduced staff.)
Because Vignali is in Australia on a working visa sponsored by the restaurant, he isn’t eligible to work for another company. Nor is he eligible for any of the government’s stimulus packages (many other international workers on temporary visas are similarly affected).
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“I was getting a bit worried, thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ I still had to pay all my bills,” he says. “There are so many people working in the industry – if the hospitality sector were to go down it’d be really sad, because we’ve all been working on it for years.”
In his share-house kitchen, Vignali kept making pasta and posting photos on Instagram. When friends asked if they could buy some, he saw an opportunity to keep working.
“I had a fridge in my bedroom, because at the start I was prepping in my home kitchen and putting everything in my room, because there was no space in my house,” he says.
Soon after, food writer Dani Valent – who’s been advocating for increased support for migrant hospitality workers – connected him with Cookaborough, a startup that gives chefs and home cooks a platform to sell and share meals for pick-up or delivery. As a result, Vignali launched pasta-delivery service Al Dente.
The Al Dente menu changes weekly, but expect to find tortellini with cacio e pepe filling; tagliatelle; potato gnocchi; beef and pork lasagne; sauces (including Napoletana); and slow-cooked lamb or mushroom ragu. There’s also sourdough ciabatta and desserts (including a chocolate pudding with a liquid centre).
The pastas arrive frozen, so you can cook them with one of Vignali’s jarred sauces – or something else entirely – whenever you choose.
“At the start I was selling pasta to two or three families a week, but it wasn’t keeping me busy and I was barely making money from it,” Vignali says. “Now I’m back working and earning a salary in a way – it’s just that I'm doing it all myself.”
Vignali is thankful to those in the hospitality industry who have helped him, including Guy Grossi (who’s continued to provide training and mentoring) and publican Matt O’Kane, who offered him the use of the commercial kitchen at CBD venue Coopers Inn, where he’s now cooking.
“Without all of them, Al Dente wouldn't exist,” Vignali says. “With how they’ve helped me, I hope one day I’ll be able to help them as well. [Our industry] is just trying to stand up all together."
Sign up to Cookaborough to view Al Dente’s menu. New menus are released every Saturday, and orders close Wednesday for delivery Thursday or Friday, and pick-up from Thursday to Saturday.