“Travel changes people for the better…it’s unimaginable to me that people wouldn’t yearn for a peek at the other side of the world.”
– Anthony Bourdain, 2011
Last autumn I embarked on a solo Interrail adventure across Europe. It was my first time doing proper ‘travelling’. Before then it had only been family holidays, camping trips in the UK, and the dirty delve into Magaluf with three school friends in 2017. Taking on Europe by train was different – it shaped me, changed the way I looked at certain situations, and made me aware of the world beyond my bedroom.
While on my train travels, I read Anthony Bourdain‘s Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain doesn’t hold back, with one of the chapters – ‘A Day in the Life’ – describing in detail the gruelling and sometimes gruesome ins and outs of a chef’s day-to-day routine. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with what goes on in professional kitchens, with an itch in the back of my mind saying ‘you should have a crack at that’. Perhaps it was the combination of reading Bourdain’s book while eating in amazing patisseries in the south of France but, before long, I had contrived a fantastic idea.
On returning to England I quit my job in radio and started working at a bakery just outside of Warrington. I was to be the king of the egg custard tart, the master of all artisan loaves. Alas, my time at the bakery marks my shortest job to date. It lasted three days. Visions of me and my colleagues standing around the bakery, drinking espresso whilst homemade jam bubbled on the stove and sumptuous sourdough loaves rose in the oven didn’t live up to the reality. On my first day, a stalwart baker told me to “put meat in pie then put lid on pie”. Meat lid, meat lid, meat lid. That’s all I did. On day two my sausage rolls were wonky and my pork pies were overfilled. By day three the novelty of the 3am alarm had worn off and, for all parties involved, it was best that my baking career came to an end.
Nevertheless, the late, great Bourdain has continued to inspire me. While in America, on a day out in Boston, one of his comments came to mind: “Find where local people are eating…ask a taxi driver, someone at a market, say ‘Where do you eat?’”
And that’s what I did. My friend went for a haircut and I took the opportunity to ask the barber “where’s good to eat?” The man with scissors recommended a place round the corner called FLORINA. “Everything in there’s good,” he said. And it was.
As I walked through the doors of FLORINA Pizzeria, someone in the queue was most put out that their pizza wait time was 10 to 15 minutes. “Everything’s cooked fresh here, made to order,” said the server. If my excitement wasn’t already palpable, the sounds and smells of fresh pizza had me salivating.
It all started with a slice of white margarita with tomato and basil, the cheese bubbling on the slice’s surface as it arrived at the table. When it comes to pizza, patience isn’t my strong point, so the roof of my mouth was well and truly burnt. But who bloody cares? It was worth it.
Next up was a ball of arancini the size of a baseball. Homemade risotto stuffed with beef bolognaise, mozzarella, pecorino and peas – it was a big ball of goodness. Much like the structure of a massive scotch egg but, instead of egg, it contained a secret beefy cheesy centre served on a tomato sauce. The sauce was the ideal dip for those white slice pizza crusts, too.
Meanwhile, a sandwich called ‘That Sandwich’ was too tempting to turn down. A beautiful butty filled with breaded chicken, prosciutto, roasted red pepper, fresh mozzarella and white balsamic vinaigrette – it was the perfect combination of crispy chicken, creamy cheese and plump red peppers just doing their thing, dripping juice all over the shop.
I’ll leave you with this from Bourdain: “Don’t be afraid to eat a bad meal, if you don’t risk the bad meal you never get the magical one.” It’s safe to say that the three dishes consumed in FLORINA were conjured by sorcerers.