After finding fame as one of four finalists in Masterchef The Professionals 2019, French-born chef and Hackney Wick dweller Yann Florio has dabbled in many sectors of the food industry. Be it opening up his own restaurant during Covid, co-founding a high-end, sustainability-oriented private catering business or filming a pilot television show, Yann and his self-confessed “itchy feet” have been around the block.
Palate contributing writer Vicky Morrison (VM) caught up with Yann Florio (YF) to learn more about his life, background and career since Masterchef The Professionals.
VM: When did you move to London?
YF: So I’m thirty-four now and I moved to London about ten years ago. I’m from a part of France called Lorraine. I’m not a massive fan of the region to be perfectly honest with you. Back home I had always been into organising little punk gigs and festivals which featured bands from all over the world, but particularly from London. I made a lot of connections that way and I decided to make the move. I stopped over in Dublin on my way for a restaurant trial and decided the accent was going to be far too great a challenge. So I began working at Corrigan’s in Mayfair immediately after and haven’t left London since.
VM: What was your experience at Corrigan’s like?
YF: It was crazy. I guess it was all a bit rock and roll, in a way. I was there for three and a half years, working crazy ninety hour weeks, living in a terrible little flat in Elephant and Castle, getting ripped off by my landlord, the full works. [Richard] Corrigan is still one of my heroes, I love his angle on food.
I started my own company, and we started doing really well. But I always want more, so I semi-jokingly signed up for Masterchef
VM: How did you find your way onto Masterchef The Professionals?
YF: I was getting itchy feet, which I’ve realised is something about myself I cannot escape! I wanted to get out of the restaurant environment; I’d been working in restaurants since I was fourteen. As soon as I got out of chef school I started in a crazy restaurant. When I was in my mid-twenties, still at Corrigan’s, I stopped and thought to myself: there must be more to cheffing than this. I started dabbling in catering. All my chef friends told me it was a terrible idea, entering this world of frozen lasagne and shamefully unimaginative food. This made me want to do it all the more! I started my own company, and we started doing really well. But I always want more, so I semi-jokingly signed up for Masterchef. My friends and family were really keen for me to do it, and I hadn’t done any food competitions before, so I thought it would be a good challenge. I didn’t expect to go very far on it.
VM: Was Masterchef a positive experience for you?
YF: Absolutely. Yes, the show is a little stale in my opinion, and in need of a shake-up, but it put me on the map and was the best promotional tool for me. It really made me stop and think about myself as a chef. I was a bit different to the other competitors: as the pressure increased, I only got more laid-back. Maybe I should have taken it more seriously!
VM: What did you do immediately after Masterchef?
YF: I mean, it was the worst timing in the entire world. As soon as Masterchef had aired, we were plunged into lockdown. But I did a crazy thing: I opened up my own restaurant on Hoxton Street. We got it going pretty well and were relying largely on delivery meals for my client base, but in the end Covid won.
I’ve always loved incorporating Italian flavours into my cooking and adding splashes of Japanese techniques like fermenting. I’ve always tried to stay true to myself; that’s how you succeed in such a saturated industry
VM: Tell us about your business now.
YF: Since the restaurant saga I’ve been running my own catering business. We cater for high-end parties with a maximum of 120 guests. We partner with really cool little venues, like Maison Assouline on Piccadilly Circus. The focus is totally on sustainable ingredients. It’s a space for clients who are really in it for the food and who can afford the higher price point. I’ve always loved incorporating Italian flavours into my cooking [his grandfather was Florentine] and adding splashes of Japanese techniques like fermenting. I’ve always tried to stay true to myself; that’s how you succeed in such a saturated industry.
VM: How do you see the status of the hospitality industry now?
YF: It’s wild. When we opened up the restaurant, we refused to take any loans that would lead to debt further down the line. Now, you see it everywhere. Twelve hospitality businesses close every day, unable to pay off the loans they took out during Covid. Restaurants are struggling, apart from a select few that are doing very well indeed. These days, it’s all about marketing and PR. We were in Ottolenghi’s Rovi recently on a Monday and it was packed. On our walk home we went past any number of totally empty chains and small businesses that paled in comparison.
VM: What gives you hope for the industry?
YF: For me, the most amazing thing is people’s burgeoning interest in the chef, the ingredient, the sustainable process behind their plate of food. It’s great to see people going back to a more humble approach to food behind the smoke and mirrors of social media. That’s what gives me hope. For example, I have never skimped on ingredient quality. If I see a beautiful organic ingredient, I will always buy it for my clients’ food no matter the cost. I always try to be honest with my business, which is maybe why I’m not a very good businessman! I pay my staff equal to myself, and I put quality and enjoyment before everything.
VM: What’s next for you? Did you ever want to make it as a TV chef personality after Masterchef?
YF: Again, you know me and my itchy feet! I’d like to get into running my own restaurant again. Weirdly enough, yes, I really did try to get into TV. My friend and I are currently filming a pilot episode as it happens. I can’t say anymore for now, but watch this space!
VM: Where’s your favourite place to eat in London when you’re off duty?
YF: Hackney is amazing. If I’m feeling fancy, I love going to Casa Fofo. Another favourite is Casse-Croûte in Bermondsey. When I’m on more of a budget, I keep finding myself in Brasserie Zédel. It’s just solid stuff and a good laugh. More often than not, you can find me cooking a simple, hearty dinner for my girlfriend and my friends. French classics are my favourite: anything that reminds me of my grandma’s cooking. The usual tale!
Photos kindly provided by Yann Florio.