Italian chef Gaetano Bonora has set up a fresh pasta business, La Dolce Vita, in Northern Ireland making a range of authentic Italian pastas and sauces. The new business, which is based in Portstewart in county Derry, is already supplying pasta to delis and restaurants in Northern Ireland and aims to expand to other markets. Bonora, from Puglia in southern Italy, launched the business earlier in the year because he saw a gap in the market for fresh, authentic Italian pasta while studying English at the Ulster University campus in Coleraine.

He has worked as a chef in Puglia and Florence. “While I studied English at the Ulster University in Coleraine I spotted an opportunity to provide authentic pasta and sauces working part time in a local restaurant,” says Gaetano. “There’s a world of difference especially in taste between fresh pasta and the pre-packed varieties here. I was also approached by local people interested in Italian pasta.” Gaetano’s journey to pasta production began when he was asked to help a small group of local people to improve their Italian!

Italian chef Gaetano Bonora
Italian chef Gaetano Bonora

Helping Gaetano (31) in La Dolce Vita, the small business he decided to start earlier in the year, is an experienced and successful Australian businesswoman, Clíodhna Rae, who had come home to her native Portstewart to care for a family member. Gaetano’s response was to use food to teach the students Italian. “I focused on Italian ingredients and dishes and how best to prepare classic meals from my country.

They learned Italian from recipe books I brought with me. We then made the meals. I showed the class how to make fresh and authentic Italian pasta and a range of classic dishes that we then enjoyed over a glass of good Italian wine,” he says. It was during these dinner sessions that the idea of a fresh pasta business was raised. Gaetano was encouraged to test market a range of traditional Italian pasta products he had prepared. “I drew on my experience working as a chef in my home region of Puglia and later in Florence,” he continues.

“I had grown up helping my father Giuseppe on the family’s fruit and vegetable farm in Puglia, which is in south of the country and away from the established tourism centres. Puglia’s ‘cucina povera’ is about as rustic as Italian cuisine gets. It is deeply steeped in agricultural traditions and an instinct for self-sufficiency and is not unlike Northern Ireland in terms of the close links between small farms and processors.

“I’ve also learned that heritage and provenance are great features of food production here,” he adds. "And it's our intention to use locally sourced ingredients, such as herbs and vegetables, whenever possible in the products. We hope, for instance, to use locally harvested seaweed in the products. Another important selling point is that our products are very low in sugar, less than 0.3 per cent.” Gaetano and Clíodhna decided to set up the business at the turn of the year. Gaetano produces the fresh pasta, dishes like lasagne and Italian sauces such as Tomato and Basil and Puttanesca, a unique blend of tomatoes, chilli, black peppers, anchovies, capers, onions, celery and garlic. Clíodhna’s role is to provide essential management and marketing expertise. “We’ve lots of ideas about products including gluten-free varieties and a vegetarian lasagne,” adds Gaetano. “We’re both hugely excited about the business and the opportunities for the products and customer service that we can provide.”