Food is a big part of the Italian culture, and their passion for it would have them come introduce Nairobi to Italy. Over two decades later, it would seem they have succeeded.
When I finally get to sit down for a quick chat with husband and wife duo Fausto and Lorenza Trufelli, the brains behind Pomodoro, their restaurant is teeming with customers. Later I will fall in love with their pizzas all over again. The Kenyan chapter of their lives starts with a vacation here in 1992. For all its shortcomings, this beautiful country will reel you in and trap you in its charm. And so two years later, the newly married couple who were then just 33 and 26, left their jobs to come settle here. Food is a big part of the Italian culture, and their passion for it would have them come introduce Nairobi to Italy. Over two decades later, it would seem they have succeeded.
The pair set up shop at the Village Market, which had then just opened in 1995. They had a restaurant called Pomodoro and an ice cream shop called Arlecchino, but sold the latter about 1.5 years ago. “There wasn’t much happening in the Kenyan food scene then,” states Lorenza. “You couldn’t even find a good cappuccino. In fact, they would call it ‘cup of chino’!” She further explains that while a lot of establishments have since come up, they don’t mind the competition.
“We have remained steadfast in our concept and continue to keep to our traditions. We come from Rome but have family all over Italy. We still cook in the manner that was ingrained in us growing up,” adds Lorenza. “When I make sauces, I can tell when it’s ready by the noise it makes while simmering. When I make pasta, I can tell if it is ready just from how the spoon is touching it. This is because I grew up with these traditions. Some of the items on our menu have actually been there for over 20 years! If we remove anything, we get complaints!”
The menu at their open-court restaurant is divided into three. They explain that the first is the ‘traditional; section which has the classics that they won’t ever change. The second is the ‘original’ which is food from Italy but with their own added flair. The third is the ‘extravagant’ section where Italy meets abroad- because Nairobi in itself is very cosmopolitan- and you would never find them in Italy because they are not your traditional dishes. “We want to keep our customers happy without losing who we are or our way of doing things,” says Fausto. “We have sacrificed a lot of business just to maintain quality. We chose not to franchise because we didn’t want to lose the quality that customers have come to expect. There is no need to open up 20 outlets that we won’t be able to give the same attention as just this one.”
The first generation from their family to live abroad, Fausto and Lorenza are quick to add that while Italy is a tiny country, the food is very different from the North to South, and every Monday, the restaurant offers a buffet that explores the different regions. Since they sold Arlecchino, they have also introduced a coffee corner to their spot. You will not find a frapuccino, however, because they only focus on traditional Italian brews.
Italians are very fussy about their food, and there is the age-old argument that you cannot get Italian food that’s just as good in any other part of the world. The pair however state that they do not compromise on authenticity, and have since resorted to getting ingredients like tomato sauce and olive oil from their home country. Having restaurants that need these ingredients outside of Italy has given rise to very efficient companies that import whatever they may need. Fausto makes mozzarella on occasion, and they also make their own sauces like bolognese.
“Sometimes you make pizza at home and it ends up looking like a frisbee! You need to treat it like it’s alive. Don’t prepare your sauces separately! Cook it together with your pizza in the oven!” exclaims Fausto. “And don’t add sugar please!” adds his wife. Finally, it is time to eat.