Meet Anna Borassi, the lady behind Italian Osteria in The Groove
Like so many other successful chefs, Anna Borrasi learned much of her cooking from her grandmother, whose home kitchen in Naples, Italy, was always steeped in enticing, delicious aromas. “I was allowed to play the cook and try different things,” she says. Another major inspiration and influence on her life was her father, an ambitious businessman who managed thirty businesses together with his wife.
Despite being surrounded by food in her early life, and exposed to myriad Italian cuisines while later living in various regions of Italy, Anna did not want to pursue a career in the restaurant business. She wanted to become a doctor! These plans were dashed when during her studies she met a handsome young freelance photographer with whom she fell madly in love, got married, and began wandering the world.
The first destination was Tenerife in the Canary Islands where the young couple settled. The lure of food soon proved too strong. “I think it is in my DNA, and it can’t be changed,” says Anna. In Tenerife Anna gave birth to two children, opened an Italian restaurant as there was none there, and became fluent in Spanish. All this she accomplished by the age of twenty-one. The outdoor restaurant that produced simple Italian food from a converted garage was an immediate success, famous for its fish from the nearby sea.
Next stop was Portugal, for three years, where Anna was initially employed by an American- British group that owned hotels and restaurants, and where she worked as a chef in a stand-alone villa. At the same time, Anna and her husband opened a pasta factory. Working from home they sold their products to hotels that served international cuisines. This was their life from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.
Her children said they wanted to return to Italy, so Anna agreed moved back to her homeland, settling in Rome where she felt like a stranger after living abroad for so many years. She also realized that to succeed in a food Mecca like Rome she had to learn many new skills. This is when Anna began learning about wine. She secured a position in one of Rome’s most prestigious restaurants, Enoteca, where she met many of the ‘who’s who’ in the city – politicians, actors, writers, artists and more. She worked there for three years until she felt Italian again, and it was time to move on again.
A courageous risk-taker, Anna opened her own restaurant in the most desirable part of Rome, in the center of its historical sector, home of many famous restaurants. It was, she admits, a huge challenge. To succeed in such an illustrious area she had to come up with something new and different. “I offered food with a twist – Italian recipes with an international touch, using food techniques I had learned overseas.”
Anna’s positive interaction with her customers was of utmost importance. A warm and welcoming person, her restaurant gained popularity in this very competitive area, bringing in clientele that matched that of her previous place of employment. She also added to the list of dignitaries, people from the Prime Minister’s office and Papal officers hailing from the Vatican. “This variety of humanity helped me to be where I am today,” Anna says.
Anna still marvels at her success, in an extremely competitive field that was traditionally male dominated. She explains how in the old days the cooks were self-made chefs who had strong competitive and survival skills. Rather than being deterred by these men, Anna learned from them and managed to forge her way into this mad world with no rules – just survival. Chauvinist male chefs are now a thing of the past, thankfully. She is however aware of the competition in the restaurant business, and the constant evolution of food and management concepts.
When Anna felt that she had reached the peak of her career in Rome, she decided to move on. This decision was reinforced by the fact that her success had left no time for her own private life. So in 2001 after fifteen years in Rome, Anna decided to reassess her life. Encouraged by her sister, she traveled to Singapore for relaxation, a place that she immediately liked. She returned to Rome, sold her restaurant in one week, and moved away, never looking back.
With Singapore on her mind, Anna now had greater plans. She traveled to New York where for three months she learned the business of franchise from big brands. Anna saw the potential for opening a company with a variety of restaurants where she could apply her skills.
Anna arrived in Singapore in early 2002 where she opened three restaurants with her business partner Gianluca – two offering fine Italian dining, the third an osteria where she serves whatever the chef makes that day, a concept that is common in Italy. The beauty is that many amazing creations have come out of such restaurants. Today her adult son and daughter manage the restaurants in Singapore, while Anna has moved on – to Thailand.
Arriving here three years ago, Anna has opened her osteria in Central World’s The Groove section where many eateries are located. Situated at ground floor level, the restaurant is named IO, standing for Italian Osteria but she adds with a smile that it also means ‘me’ in Italian.
Rather than just serving the expected traditional Italian food, the osteria offers food from all twenty regions of Italy introducing an exciting culinary experience, giving Anna free range to explore new recipes but remaining true to the region they represent. The success in Bangkok prompted Anna to open a second restaurant a year later, this one in Pattaya.
When asked what the future will bring, Anna answers that she would like to cultivate her own vegetables and produce a side line of specialty foods such cheeses, jams and whatever she can do herself. She would also like to teach better restaurant servicing skills that Thailand seems to be short of, and continue to offer the public the best that she can offer.