Sam Fazackerley on what it’s like to work in one of Manchester’s most famous restaurants
If you open a tabloid newspaper, there’s a high chance of you seeing a photo of a soap star or a reality television personality smizing their way into or out of Rosso, the Italian restaurant on King Street. But it takes a lot more than the odd sleb to keep a restaurant going and Rosso is about to celebrate its tenth year in business.
We talk to Rosso’s head chef Sam Fazackerley about what it’s really like to work behind the scenes at one of Manchester’s best known restaurants.
The answer to creating a nice dish is not just to bang truffle in it. You’ve got to respect the tradition of Italian cuisine
How did you become a chef?
SF - "I’ve always grown up around food. My uncle was a chef. My auntie had tearooms so I used to help out on Saturdays from the age of 13, starting with washing up and learning how to bake. I went to college and trained to be something else entirely. Then I started working in the café in Preston prison, which I really enjoyed. I entered a few industry competitions, which gave me the bug for doing higher end food. They sent me to college and that’s how I realised I wanted to work in a restaurant. So I moved from my small town near Chorley into Manchester to work at Stock when it was run by Enzo Marlo. Then I moved to Rosso – nine years ago."
So you’re a Lancashire lad. Do you think that’s given you a respect for ingredients?
SF - "Absolutely. My grandparents were farmers. I think we had a good understanding of produce and provenance growing up. But I have a greater appreciation for it now than I did when I was younger."
Rosso is a big restaurant. How many people do you cook for on your average Saturday night?
SF - "A lot (laughs) we do upwards of 400 on an evening sitting. We’ll do around 150 for lunch as well."
How do you maintain quality with numbers like that?
SF - "By being strict with everything that goes out. Being a Virgo is quite a virtue in this industry – I’m an utter control freak when it comes down to everything that goes out and standards mean a lot. You have to ensure that if you came to dine with us on a quieter Monday evening it must be the same experience as it is if you return on a busy Saturday. You can’t let things slip so you have to be rigorous in what you do."
How do you communicate that to the team?
SF - "That comes down to training the people that work here and giving them an understanding of why things are done in a certain way, so they’re just as invested in delivering the product. Pride in what you do each day is reward for the effort you put in. The aptitude to learn is really valuable. We’re all a product of the people who taught us."
You say you’re a control freak, but you come across as quite a relaxed guy.
SF - "Yeah, I have a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde approach. There’s a kindness in how you let somebody know your standards but there’s also a line in the sand. But chefs are chefs and that’s management."
Are Rosso’s kitchens huge?
SF - "It’s labyrinthian. We’ve grown over the last nine years, so the level of prep work that every section is responsible for has grown exponentially. The fresh pasta work gives us the chance to train staff on new shapes, new styles and new flavours. It’s also a great showcase for great seasonal Italian produce. It is a focus of every lunch menu we offer, which I don’t see as a budget offering – even though it falls into that price range. What we do represents our skills, our repertoire, our understanding of flavour."
What varieties of pasta do you make here?
SF - "We have a black garlic tagliolini that’s done in house, we make noodles, ravioli, agnolotti, we make orecchiette (which are on the lunch menu at the moment) using a burnt wheat flour which gives it a really toasted flavour. I have a good relationship with my suppliers so I like to see what they can source in terms of typical products from certain regions."
Describe the food at Rosso for people who haven’t been there before. Is it an uncompromisingly Italian menu?
SF - "I think that’s a bit disingenuous. We’re Italian-led but we use techniques that are far reaching. I’m big into smoked flavours and really extracting what we can from what’s available at the time. We smoke lamb shoulders for our lamb pasta dish, which has really deep aromatic flavours. We’ve got smoked brisket on a pizza at the moment. We do smoked mashed potato for our venison dish and also smoked beetroot. We’re always looking for different ways to bring it in."
Are you given creative freedom in terms of the menu?
SF - "Yes, but there wasn’t as much in the beginning. It’s something that had to be proven. Our restaurant is a catch-all kind of place. We cater for people’s wedding anniversaries and special birthdays – occasions where there are multiple generations sat round a table. So you have to offer something that’s approachable but hopefully there’s something different. When there’s a plethora of Italian restaurants, I pride ourselves on not being that similar thing."
If you were to serve someone you were trying to impress, one dish from Rosso, what would you cook for them?
SF - "*Huge sigh* Wow…I’d struggle with that because I’d like to think that everything we do has a certain stamp to it even if its something really simple. I’d like to think that we deliver it on a level that separates us, if that makes sense."
Do you get to go over to Italy for research?
SF - "Yes, as often as I can. One of the places I hold dearest is The Maremma in Tuscany, which is just unbelievable. Italian restaurants in the UK can struggle because the element of Italian cuisine that is so alluring is the simplicity of the produce and how much flavour is there from such few components. The equilibrium is all about developing flavours from technique."
Simple ingredients are good, but this is Rosso, surely you are able to push the boat out a bit.
SF - "Well I am a big fan of caviar (laughs). We get to use some amazing produce and I feel very lucky coming to work every day. I don’t know if I’d be in this position working otherwise. It helps me to grow as a chef but the answer to creating a nice dish is not just to bang truffle in it. You’ve got to respect that the tradition of Italian cuisine is born from poverty and the dishes formed by that are absolutely exquisite, so how do you refine that?"
The paps are always outside Rosso. I can image certain customers have tricky demands.
SF - "All the time. Every day. Look, we’re very accommodating and I think we pride ourselves on being able to modify anything to anybody’s requirements. I don’t think we have outlandish requests. Just the odd carbonara with no pancetta and extra prawns, or peppercorn sauce with a tuna steak, but that’s what we’re here for. You’re nothing without your customers, so what’s the point in thinking you know what they want more than they do? You’re here to accommodate their occasion whatever that may be and if you let your ego get in the way because you think you know how better to eat something then why are you doing this?
"It’s tough to go on Instagram though and see a delicately nuanced dish you’ve worked on with half a ton of grated Parmesan dumped on top of it. But again, let someone enjoy their meal. I’m not going to tell somebody how to eat their dinner."
The number of restaurants in Manchester has grown hugely over the past 10 years. How has Rosso stood its ground?
SF - "The team that we have has been the core of it for a long time and I think there’s a real sense of who we are. So as long as those principles are stuck to, I think people respect that."
Do you think you’re still attracting new customers?
SF - "Yeah. There’s a good profile for the restaurant with young people through various means. Social has worked to our advantage. You have to not resist change. It can be unnerving. The scale of events that we do can be overwhelming to be a part of and it takes a lot of work to make them come off."
What events do you cater for?
SF - "All sorts of things: launches, music videos, a lot based around fashion. As a chef we enjoy challenges, to be able to sit down and create menus for things like perfume launches where we have to come up with courses reflecting each flavour profile of a scent is stimulating and allows you to work with speciality suppliers. It’s massively inspiring which makes it more than just a job. There’s also a lot of trust involved. People invest in you to help make their event a success for their biggest clients. This is a dream job to be able to be so creative."
Why do you think these brands come to Rosso and ask you to do it?
SF - "No idea, but I’m super grateful that they do (laughs). Our management team don’t have the benefit of giant departments that look after our creative, or marketing, or menu development. We do all of this and we’re backed by being in one of the biggest independent restaurants in Manchester. Being able to knock out launches because we are trusted as young professionals to do it is unheard of and my gratitude given over to clients, customers, staff and owners is knockout. I count my blessings man."