Italian chef's labor of love in Shandong

(Xinhua) 14:08, April 17, 2023

JINAN, April 17 (Xinhua) -- Italian chef Federico Bianchini rises with the first rays of spring sunshine, puts on his white work jacket and heads into the kitchen. A few hours later, the appetizing aroma of dessert fills the house.

This is the fourth year that Bianchini, 61, has lived in Dongying in east China's Shandong Province, running a restaurant with his Chinese wife, partly in remembrance of their deceased daughter.

In 2004, Bianchini married Dong Yan, a Chinese national living in Verona, Italy. However, the couple were plunged into grief when a car accident took away their only daughter. For years, the couple struggled to move on.

"Our daughter once told us that she wanted to open an Italian restaurant in Dongying," Bianchini said. "We found this city in the Yellow River Delta on the map, and we felt a kind of predestination."

Their daughter had visited Dongying and became attached to the city. "We wanted to see the place my daughter was thinking of, to fulfill her unfulfilled dream," said Bianchini.

In 2019, having finally mustered the courage to start a new business in their 50s, the couple made the move to Shandong.

"On the plane, we encouraged each other, saying that at least one person in 100 would like our dishes. To our surprise, we received a lot of help in opening our restaurant from the government and local people," said the husband.

The first Chinese words he learned after landing in Dongying were "beautiful" and "delicious," followed closely by "love." Such were the sentiments aroused by this inclusive and amiable city in the estuary of China's second-longest river.

The restaurant built a fan base with its Italian menu. Among their regular customers are many local parents, who chat with the couple while bringing their children to enjoy Italian food.

The restaurant has a signature dish called Wangwang Pizza, which Bianchini designed for a 9-year-old boy called Wangwang. The child's mother was among the couple's first local customers and friends, and helped open a social media account to spread the word about the restaurant.

"I like talking with them. It feels like they're my daughter's friends and neighbors," said Dong.

While most chefs keep their recipes secret, Bianchini shares them on a large board displayed in the restaurant. The couple have also joined in activities to introduce authentic Italian dishes to schools and communities, offering free culinary training.

"We feel that life in Dongying is full of love, and sharing is a kind of happiness," Bianchini said, adding that his Chinese friends have introduced him to Chinese traditions like acupuncture and taught him to make Chinese snacks such as steamed buns.

Last year, Bianchini received a senior citizen's ID and a free public transport card. Looking ahead, he is content to continue running his restaurant in Dongying.

"We'll stay in China and in the Yellow River estuary, where we have our family and love," said Bianchini.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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