Interview with Cotswold contestant of Gordon Ramsay’s brand new series
- Credit: BBC Pictures
What do you do when you’re a young entrepreneur, living in a different country to that of your birth, working to establish your new food brand, and Gordon Ramsay comes knocking? Grab the opportunity with both hands, of course!
Vincenzo Gentile – co-founder of Smokin’ Brothers – is one of the stars of Gordon Ramsay’s brand new reality TV show Future Food Stars.
Yep, FFS. See what they did there?
The show sees Vincenzo and 11 other food entrepreneurs fight for a life-changing investment of £150,000 of Gordon’s own money for their food business, with Gordon putting the contenders through a series of challenges. The Apprentice for foodies, if you like.
Originally from Italy, Vincenzo – with good friends Alessandro and Iacopo – developed Smokin’ Brothers to transform the way we eat smoked salmon, sharing a passion for good food and a commitment to sustainable living. Crafted in the heart of the Cotswolds, their smoked salmon is smoked following traditional Norwegian smokehouse designs, before being sliced using their signature sashimi slice.
And now, nearly a year after filming – and two-and-a-half years since casting – the day we’ve all been waiting for has come around, with the first episode of Gordon’s FFS hitting our screens tonight.
And, as if Vincenzo doesn’t have enough on his plate, with the nerve-racking BBC screening taking place later, I insist on calling him up for a Zoom chat...
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‘When Alessandro and I finished high school,’ he says, coming across as surprisingly relaxed, ‘we both moved to London looking for opportunities. Because we had very little money, we were sharing a warehouse room – four of us in just 20 square metres – with Alessandro and I sharing a mattress on the floor for many months. That’s when our relationship became very strong.’
It’s situations like that that really do test a friendship – most definitely a case of make or break – with the warehouse squat they were living being incredibly basic: no windows, no water and no electricity.
‘When you struggle,’ he continues, ‘the ones who are closest to you are the ones you build beautiful relationships with, and so we soon became very good friends. He was the first person I called when I opened the business, asking if he wanted to join my team and become one of the ‘Brothers’.’
Before Alessandro came on board, Vincenzo’s business was known as ‘Atelier Smoked Salmon’, with Alessandro joining him around six months later, and Iacopo a few months after that.
‘Iacopo and I knew each other in Italy – when we were both 16, we used to hang out together a lot. So, when he moved to London to study, I invited him to come and live with us... this time not in the warehouse squat, but a decent place. There were eight of us sharing, but it was actually a house so much better than a squat warehouse!
‘Iacopo is so similar to me; character-wise we are so alike. Our birthdays are just a day apart, so we celebrate together and always hang out together. He was concentrating on his degree too when he first joined us, of course, but he did the design side of things for the business and came up with the logo and images.’
And now Smokin’ Brothers has premises at Daylesford Organic Farm in the Cotswolds – the only completely independent business to be based there. At 21, Vincenzo decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur working with smoked salmon, but the opportunities to set up alone at the time just weren't there.
‘I approached the CEO of Daylesford with a business plan,’ he says. ‘They wanted me to become an employee but, as I wanted my own business, I went back to them with a counter-offer where I would still supply Daylesford with smoked salmon, but I would retain my independent status and be able to sell to others.’
As Alessandro is in charge of production, he spends the majority of time at their Daylesford premises, while Vincenzo divides his time between London and the Cotswolds.
‘When I did the filming, I was struggling with mental health,’ he confides, ‘so it was a really tough decision for me to take part. Obviously, I never mentioned this to the BBC because I thought it would compromise their decision to take me on board, but they did prepare us all beforehand for the amount of pressure we’d be under.
‘As an entrepreneur, it’s all about being challenged,’ he continues. ‘You will be challenged every day, and you can either approach it by saying “no matter how hard it feels, I can do it” or you can give up. I was very proud of myself for putting me in that situation; I had very difficult times – panic attacks and other sorts of things outside of filming – but I never wanted this to transpire on the filming side... besides, I’m sure everyone else was feeling the same sort of pressure.’
None of the participants were allowed to share their culinary skill sets before filming, as the BBC wanted everything to be a complete surprise, which would have only added to the pressure, of course, but Vincenzo has absolutely no regrets about participating in the series and has sought help for improving his mental health since then, and feels so much better.
And how did he cope with not only being on camera while completing challenges, but also having Gordon Ramsay breathing down his neck while doing so?
‘Obviously, we all know what kind of personality Gordon is,’ he laughs. ‘He’s a challenging man, a very strong character, but I also saw a very kind man. He was doing his best to put us at ease and to be comfortable... though it’s difficult to be comfortable in that situation, surrounded by cameras with hundreds of people from the BBC looking at you. Gordon would come out of nowhere... you’d be working hard at your challenge, never knowing when he was going to appear!
‘I do have a beautiful memory of him as a human being and as a mentor. He was honestly trying to challenge us in a positive way and trying to get the most out of us so that we could shine.’
At the time of talking to him, Vincenzo hadn’t seen any of the edits and so doesn’t know quite what to expect of the new series, but has been invited to watch it in preview later today with his girlfriend and other contenders.
‘There are so many beautiful things I did during filming, and so many mistakes I made, that I’m not sure what's going to end up on TV. It’s going to be as much of a surprise for me as it is for everybody else!’
Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars is in 10 episodes and starts tonight on BBC1 at 9pm.
Smokin’ Brothers – Masters of Salmon – is based at Daylesford Organic Farm, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0YG, smokin-brothers.com