3 October, 2017. Samoa – Nothing is more important than family, for Dora Rossi, Chef and co-owner of Milani Café and Paddles Restaurant.
Based in Apia, the restaurants are well-known for their delicious food, vibrant atmospheres and excellent customer service.
With two successful restaurants under her belt and the invaluable support of her family, Ms. Rossi reflects on some of her earliest memories with food, during an exclusive interview with Samoa Planet.
She said, “When I was a little girl, mum and dad used to own a restaurant, so I’ve always been in the food industry. Dad had a green thumb and had a huge garden at home, and it was my job to go and pick all the vegetables.”
“I can remember how I would sit in his tomato patch, in the warmth of the sun, and pick all the green tomatoes and eat them. My dad would get angry that I couldn’t wait for them to ripen, but that was just my happy zone, sitting in the patch, playing with the dirt and eating the tomatoes.”
Named after the song, ‘La Paloma’, Ms. Rossi’s parent’s restaurant was located in the cool region of Taihape, New Zealand. A fusion of fish-and-chips and classic Italian dishes, La Paloma served as the training ground for the young Ms. Rossi who peeled potatoes after school.
Surprisingly, Ms. Rossi revealed that cooking and creating new dishes, was not part of her plan as a teenager.
“At the time we were in Italy. I had decided that I wanted to go to a School of Arts, since I had always considered myself an artistic person. But my parents put their foot down and they wouldn’t allow me. I ended up crying my head off for two days, but it didn’t work,” she added with a smile.
“Back then, I think mum and dad saw that I had it in me, the ability to cook. So they ended up sending me to a hospitality school in my home town. On the weekends or holidays I would work at the nearby hotels with my friends, just to gain some more experience and to earn a buck.”
Ms. Rossi later ended up in London, working at a local restaurant for a few years.
She added, “My parents had always encouraged me to travel and gain more experience, so when I was 28, I decided to visit New Zealand. After I had left for New Zealand, my parents told me they knew in their heart, that I would never return, and if fact I didn’t.”
Today, balancing Milani Café and Paddles is a family affair. For Ms. Rossi, the help of her brother Giovanni and sister Kelita is an invaluable gift that she is fortunate to have.
“Some people say that doing business with family is the worst thing to ever do, but for us it works. It works because everybody has their ‘department’, and we try not to step on each other’s toes…otherwise it will be an Italian Mafia War.”
“I must say that it is very challenging to balance everything in life, especially when you have two businesses, and a household, and a daughter, and a husband, and dogs, and activities…it’s not easy. But I think it’s that support, the family support, which keeps things going. I have a great partner who supports me and looks after my daughter when I can’t, and I do the same for him. It’s just about giving and taking, and sometimes giving more. There’s also a lot of respect, there has to be a lot of respect for our roles and decisions, sometimes my brother and I disagree, but you’ve got to know your boundaries and respect that.”
As Samoa continues to grow as a major tourist destination in the South Pacific, the demand of workers for the hospitality industry has come with its own obstacles. This is also something Ms. Rossi faces each day.
“I think the difficulty that I’ve found is training staff, and consistency of the staff. It’s just getting them to show up to work, and getting them to work at your standards, so basically, its ongoing training every day. Customer service is really important, and it really is.”
“The customer service standard in Samoa has grown a lot since we first opened up, and that’s a good sign.”
Since opening the doors of Paddles 11 years ago, the Rossi family have faced many challenges, from the limited supply of vegetables, to the lack of quality cuts of meat, but throughout the journey, Ms. Rossi has discovered the true meaning to success.
She explained, “Sharing is caring. It’s really important to be giving, and to give back to the community. I love to share my tips and help others, because that’s what it’s all about.”
“If you are lucky enough that your customers support you and you are making a decent living, it’s important to give back to the community. For me and my family, it’s just part of life, I guess it’s just good karma.”
Every month, Milani Café donates cupcakes to the patients of the Motootua National Hospital, a small gesture of love and giving, for the community.
She said, “You need to share the love and share the knowledge to enable everyone to be happy, because that’s important.”
Finishing with some advice for aspiring restaurant owners, Ms. Rossi adds, “Wash your hands all the time. That’s one thing that I drill into my staff every day. Wash your hands! Also, I think that we should give justice to our beautiful produce in Samoa. When you travel around the world, you do realise that Samoa does have beautiful organic produce.”
You can try some of Dora’s fabulous recipes yourself. Check out her Guest Column here on Samoa Planet. Food with Dora Rossi
Reporter with Samoa Planet.