Chat with Danny McCubbin of “The Good Kitchen”

From London to Mussomeli: Danny McCubbin on Building Community Beyond 1 Euro Homes

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Danny McCubbin, the inspiring force behind “The Good Kitchen” in Mussomeli, Sicily. Danny’s journey from Australia to London and finally to the charming town of Mussomeli is a testament to his unwavering commitment to “do good.” In our chat, Danny shared the numerous benefits of his lifestyle shift to this picturesque town, from the slower pace of life to the close-knit community spirit.

Danny McCubbin in front of the Good Kitchen
© Ros Atkinson @her_dark_materials

His dedication to The Good Kitchen is evident in his efforts to create a communal space that not only rescues food but also fosters social inclusion and empowers locals to take the reins. Danny’s story is also the heart of his upcoming book, “The Good Kitchen: Love and Connection Through Food,” which promises to inspire others to embark on their own socially impactful journeys. Join us as we delve into Danny’s remarkable efforts to blend culinary passion with community care in our latest feature.

Don’t miss the video version of this month’s Chat with an Expat, available to watch soon on our YouTube channel.

(2:00) Where are you from?

Originally, I am from Australia, and I lived and worked in London for 23 years. Like many Aussies, I backpacked in ’94 and traveled in Europe for two years. My grandparents are from Essex (UK), and my grandfather is from Scotland. In ’98, I decided to move to London and take out my ancestry visa. I initially planned to work and stay because I fell in love with London. I ended up working for Jamie Oliver on his chef and food campaigns in 2003.

(3:10) I believe you were helping with marketing?

Yes. Jamie had just finished the Naked Chef series and a beautiful program called Jamie’s Kitchen, where he trained 15 young people from challenging backgrounds to become top-class chefs. I started when there wasn’t a P&D and HR department — you had to know somebody in the business. I worked in PR and marketing and then project managed his first website. Later, I became his PA for four years. During that time, I learned everything about the business, but my interest was always in his food campaigns and how he could influence governments about feeding children in the UK. I worked for Jamie for 17 years in various roles.

(4:44) TedX and the Tomato

My grandparents were farmers, and I grew up on a farm. I always knew what a real tomato tasted like. We have such great produce in Australia, similar to Italy. I had the joy of having a childhood in the country. My earliest memory is falling asleep under a pumpkin patch. I had a beautiful food experience from a young age. We grew our own produce, and all of our family cooked. Food was a part of our life.

(6:45) When was your first trip to Italy?

Jamie opened a restaurant called Fifteen, and we trained hard to reach young people to become top chefs. Most of the chefs at Fifteen were Italian, which sparked my interest in Italian culture and food. I first started to really fall in love with Italy when we took a group of chefs and apprentices to a beautiful project called San Patrignano in Bologna for a food festival. I fell in love with this community, so I mentored many graduates from Fifteen — young people with drug and alcohol addiction or mental health challenges.

Here I was at this incredible community where they trained young people who suffered from addiction in various skills. That started my love affair with Italy, and there were many similarities to Australia in terms of food and weather. For a long time, I traveled to Italy. I set up an association in the UK to help people go to San Patrignano. I made many friends there and considered the possibility of moving to Italy when my London chapter closed.

(8:20) What year did that happen?

I started to think about it in 2016 when it was decided that the UK would leave the European Union. When Brexit happened, I always saw myself as European more so than British. My great-grandmother was from Germany, and as an Aussie, I still had this fascination with food and culture — a landmass with all these cultures living together. I knew that my next step was not working full-time in London, where it’s expensive. So in 2019, I looked at the possibility of moving to Italy.

(9:28) Mussomeli and the 1 Euro Home Projects

Many people look at Sicily only for the inexpensive houses, but there’s so much more to Mussomeli. As 2019 approached, I was still working with Jamie as a culture manager in a beautiful job, but I knew that I couldn’t wait any longer to get my Italian residency. My plan was to buy a 1 Euro house and set it up as a community project to give back to the town. Lots of things happened in between, like the pandemic, and it took a lot of time to get here. At the end of 2020, I took a leap of faith and left London to arrive in Mussomeli to my 1 Euro house.

Note that Danny’s path to residency happened pre-Brexit. We speak about this briefly through 12:15.

(12:17) Why Mussomeli?

I write about it in the book. I always thought I would be living farther north, but after I left working with Jamie, I was supposed to be on a TV series that followed six people from the UK who bought a 1 Euro house in Mussomeli. It was the perfect next step for me because my plan was to crowdfund to renovate the house and set up a community kitchen. I had not considered Sicily, but then I came to Mussomeli and, as an Aussie, I fell in love with the stunning countryside. Post-London and pandemic, I was looking for a much quieter life. I set up two community kitchens in London during the pandemic. It didn’t take a toll on me, but it was quite exhausting to be on the front line cooking meals for people that everyone had forgotten.

Mussomeli is remote and quiet. People are kind and friendly here. The TV program got canceled during the pandemic, which is totally fine. I owned the house, and it was the stepping stone to get my residency. In 2020, I moved to Mussomeli. I didn’t know anyone or speak Italian or the Sicilian dialect. I saw the first six months as a retreat. I rented a home for 250 Euros a month that was beautiful. With the skills that I had, I wondered what I could do for this town.

That’s how I ended up in Mussomeli, and I really haven’t looked back.

(15:00) Talk about The Good Kitchen

I’m so proud of The Good Kitchen! We turned three in July, and it’s a very simple premise. I crowdfunded in the first year and raised money to make us sustainable for the next three years. We opened a space in the town square rather than in my 1 Euro House because it ended up being too expensive to renovate at the time during the pandemic. So, we rented a space in the town square. The kitchen is open from Thursday through Sunday.

When I first opened, and because the concept of a communal kitchen was so new, people thought that I was a chef and this was a restaurant. It took quite some time to educate people that this space was for social inclusion or a cooking class. We rescue food four times a week from the supermarkets here and then put that food to good use. We do a fresh food delivery to families on Thursday, Friday is a reset day, Saturdays we do kids cooking classes, and Sunday is the day when everyone can come together for lunch.

I’ve just provided a modern-day version of what the town would have had. I’m so happy that it’s grown, and volunteers are now running the kitchen. I no longer cook on Sundays. It’s about empowering them and giving responsibility. The people of the town completely understand the kitchen now. I hear people talking about the kitchen. In the past three months, we’ve rescued 1.5 tons of produce from the supermarket.

There are all these incredible things that the kitchen does, and I kind of forget about them because I’m just a doer. I think the mayor has told me that it’s opened up to collaborations with associations for elderly people, festivals, etc., which is brilliant.

(24:20) Not letting food go to waste

Italians are great at using all parts of the vegetable. I’ve included recipes in the book, for example, for a celery leaf pesto and a wilted greens pasta sauce. Italians are great at not wasting food. However, with the onset of supermarkets, there’s another story. The supermarkets are good here and often don’t waste anything. It’s also that Italians don’t expect produce to look perfect — all the leaves are on the vegetable, for example, and that’s the way it should be. It’s just about educating and working with the supermarket.

We now save the produce. It took a little while, but the joy of working in a small town is that everyone knows everyone, me, and the kitchen.

I was very conscious of what we were doing, and I’d take photos of what we were doing, like a caponata, and show the visual reference to the people at the supermarket. Now they want to save unsold vegetables for me.

(26:29) Has anyone in the town ever asked you why live in Mussomeli?

There was a lot of misconception at first, and people thought I was a chef opening a restaurant. When I arrived, there was already quite a bit of press because of the Crowdfunder. It’s difficult sometimes to explain that I’m not a chef, but a good home cook — just like all Italians who cook at home! I had to work hard to explain that I volunteer and it’s not a business, but a communal space. When I tell people that I’m from Australia and that I got a bit burned out in London, they get it.

People just accept me for what I do rather than who I am and why I’m here. I think that ‘proof is in the pudding’ and ‘actions speak louder than words’.

(30:00) Your book: The Good Kitchen: Love and Connection Through Food

The book is called “The Good Kitchen: Love and Connection Through Food.” It was quite an interesting journey for me being on the other side of publishing since I worked for Jamie for 17 years. I knew the relationship he had with his publisher while working as his PA. I learned a lot, and the challenge with this book was (with some of the bigger publishers) where it would sit on the bookshelf. Was it a cookbook or a memoir? It recalls my history in London, how I found Mussomeli, and the first year of The Good Kitchen. I talk from the heart about the challenges I faced. It’s meant to encourage others if they wish to start a project that has social value.

There are recipes in the book too, a section on how to set up a community kitchen, and it’s a feel-good story. It’s a memoir to Mussomeli and to all of the incredible volunteers in the kitchen. All of the royalties go back to The Good Kitchen. I’m very proud of what we created and to have worked with an amazing photographer, Ros. (https://www.instagram.com/her_dark_materials/)

(32:00) Danny talks more about the recipes, book, and print dates. Note that it comes out in July, and we will update this article with a link and purchasing information.

(34:40) Chat with an Expat: What is an expat?

That’s a really good question. I’ve always pictured myself as Australian at heart. I never feel like I’m a foreigner wherever I live. For me, it’s very much about learning about the culture and community. The Good Kitchen is an example of that. I never wanted to come here and tell people what they need.

I am more a citizen of the world. I went to school in Canada when I was seventeen. I see each country that I’ve lived in, as part of my journey.

(36:24) What do you miss about Italy when you are in Australia and vice versa?

Good question! Home will always be home. I was in Australia in January and February. The air when I step off the plane. The ease of being there. I try not to think the ‘grass is always greener’ or focus on things that I miss. I’ve traveled so much in my time, and if I did that, I would miss the moment of where I am. I’m definitely heading towards spending a bit more time in Australia and the kitchen being more self-sustaining. I don’t miss a lot.

Torre Salsa

(38:08) There’s a beautiful area in Sicily called Torre Salsa. It’s a 6 km nature reserve. It reminds me so much of Australia, so I used to go there every week when I first moved to Mussomeli. I ended up buying a little farm there with olive trees. For me, I’m always conscious of looking after myself too rather than just working on the kitchen. From Monday to Wednesday, I go to my campagna by the sea. I’ve set things up so I have that lovely balance.

In the book, I write about my life in Torre Salsa and how there is an amazing food community. There’s a lovely food culture there. I write about how you don’t have to move to Sicily like I did. Just look in your own backyard. I talk about that in the TEDx Talk as well.

Food is something we have in common. It’s a great connector.

(40:32) What are your goals in the next 10 years?

I’ve always pictured that I would give the kitchen back to the town and it would be sustainable. I think that it’s a challenge at times when there’s only one person at the helm. That’s always been my dream.

Within the next five years, we are looking for a couple of projects. One is a cooking school for young chefs. I love writing, so I think there’s another book on the horizon.

For me, just to continue on the path that I’m on.

Follow Danny’s Journey

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dannyforgood/
Good for Good
Twitter
Facebook
YouTube
LinkedIn
Buy The Good Kitchen: https://melbournebooks.com.au/products/the-good-kitchen

Photos by Ros Atkinson and courtesy of The Good Kitchen

Lisa Morales

Editor-in-Chief

Based in Miami, I am the Editor-in-Chief for Live in Italy Magazine. I am a member of the International Food Wine Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and contributor to internationally recognized art; food and wine; and travel publications. In my free time, I love to cook and bake; take photographs; go for nature walks; and run on the beach. I am WSET 2 Certified and working on the CSW. I look forward to getting to know you! Follow Us @LiveInItalyMag 🇮🇹.

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