With their new catering company Eataly, Bruno Gavioli and Sabine van Hooidonk aim to be Phnom Penh’s premier provider of homestyle southern Italian nibbles and buffets. Bennett Murray spoke to the culinary power couple about learning home cooking, their couple’s specialities and the potential for Eataly to make an impact in the local catering market.
How did you start this business?
Gavioli: I was in this kind of business before at a restaurant in Phnom Penh, and in Italy I worked in the restaurant business. But after I left the restaurant, friends asked me why I didn’t do something, and I told them I’m not going for restaurants again because it’s a lot of work, to be honest. But one day, a friend was managing a bar, and he asked me to organise an official event for 70 people, and they wanted some food. So they gave me a budget and said: ‘Why don’t you prepare something so you can make some money?’ And we did it together, just for a friend, and afterwards thought to make such a business.
What’s the concept?
Gavioli: You order a certain quantity of food, and we offer it ready to eat – mid-range, VIP options, according to what you want.
Van Hooidonk: We have different packages, especially for events. Plates, small tapas – we have a “sharing is caring” plate – and there are different options for different prices and requirements. It can be buffet, or it can be finger food with small bites on it.
What are some of your specialities?
Gavioli: I have a lot, actually. The parmesan lasagne has deep-fried eggplant in tomato sauce, and you put layers of parmesan and mozzarella. It’s a very traditional dish from the south that came from farmers – it’s a poor dish that over the years became a very popular dish in Italy. I prefer the vegetarian one, but the most popular one is the Bolognese lasagne. And in Italy, we have the concept of aperitivo – you’re in a bar and you pay five dollars for drinks and get free food. In the bar, you will find a mini round pizza with tomato sauce, ham or anchovies. Rice balls, it is typical from Sicily, filled with meat or veggies or fish or whatever that you fry and serve like this.
Where did you learn to cook?
Gavioli: It’s the dishes from my family, so many from the south, in my region. I didn’t study food, I took everything from my mum.
Van Hooidonk: He’s the main chef and I assist in some cooking. I also love cooking, but he’s the man for the recipes. If I cook something Italian, he’s like: “Uggh ... what? This is not the way!” He’s very strict on his Italian rules.
Do you think the business model will take off?
Gavioli: There’s many French [caterers], but I think we’re the first Italian in Phnom Penh. Corporate business people have approached us and said it’s nice, finally something new.
Van Hooidonk: I had a conversation with one of the guys from an embassy, and he said he’s always stuck with the same thing for embassy meetings. So it’s nice to have a new option.
Eataly provides the food for the After Workaholic nights every Thursday at The Room, #10 Street 246, and will cater Meta House’s Cooking For Riel charity dinner 7pm on Saturday, May 16. Email Meta House at [email protected] for tickets. Only 50 tickets will be sold at $15 apiece. To organise a catered event with Eataly, call 012 991 483.