In my regular Scotland's Larder series, I usually triumph Scottish produce exclusively but I have made an exception this week to highlight one Glasgow business, La Pastina Deli, a little piece of Italy on Byers Road.
It is run by Glaswegian John Traynor who, despite having no Italian family connections, managed to scoop the Best deli in Scotland prize at the Italian awards in November, having only been open for a few months.
So you won't find any Scottish cheese in the fridge or beef and pork.
They do stock Scottish dried goods and, although the deli coffee they serve is Italian, it’s roasted in Clydebank by Italian Aroma.
However, the real reason I am featuring the deli, is the pasta which they sell which is made on site in the tiny kitchen. “
Not everyone does that,” John explains. “We are making everything fresh here, the traditional way and are just trying to be as true as possible." So, just way way your mama or nonna would make it.
Their clientele includes university students and regulars who make a special trip to buy their favourite products for a set meal. As a small deli it is key that they serve the local as well as the wider Italian community.
They often source items specifically for one of their customers, their mantra being, "we stock what people want, not what we want". That way they can earn customer loyalty.
John says: “Although a customer might only buy a specific tin every few weeks, they will come in here to get it."
John doesn’t come from a food-loving family, and he jokes: “My mum couldn't cook, she couldn't even make chips!"
So it was more spaghetti hoops in a tin, than fresh pasta, I joke. He says: “My aunty would make bolognese sauce which was just tomato puree and spaghetti, nothing like I make now."
Instead, his love of cooking came from home economics lessons at school and watching chefs on the goggle box, Ainsley Harriet.
“When I was younger I had a hip disorder so I was off school for two years having operations, so I would always watch Ready Steady Cook. I became obsessed, wanting to know how to make things."
So he made a decision early on that a career in the kitchen was for him, and he was advised to go straight into work instead of college, and ended up with an apprenticeship at The Hilton hotel in Glasgow.
That experience taught him a lot, especially doing the apprentice job which was "mostly larder and plating up for the big functions”. “I had to pipe a 1,000 pieces of cream on a plate or place hundreds of carrots."
But it was a good place to learn for an ambitious young chef, “I was there as 16-year-old boy, with my eyes wide open."
After leaving he ended up working in a variety of restaurants and hotels, including a stint as head chef at The Finneston, where he went on to become the executive chef of that group aged just 20.
He enjoyed the challenge of working long hours in the high-pressure kitchen environment. However, after a while, he desired a change and took a chef position in recipe development for Dawn Fresh Fish.
He worked for them for five years and, while it was not the most glamorous of jobs, “it was a good, secure job". They made products for Marks and Spencer, and Aldi amongst others.
The regular working hours meant he was able to run a series of pop-up restaurants, named The Undercover Dinner Society in addition to his main job, which led to lucrative private chef work.
So after finishing his 9-5 job at Dawn Fresh, he would drive home, say hello to his wife and children, then change back into whites and head back out to cook, essentially working two different jobs five days a week.
His most high-profile client was the Celtic striker, Odsonne Édouard.
John says: “He was such a nice guy, he was so laid back. I was like a fan boy the first couple of times I cooked for him."
On match days John would make the striker, "carb laden dishes but normally it was a mix of everything".
John was hired to provide Odsonne and his girlfriend with fresh and tasty dinners and lunches, like fresh pasta, handmade raviolis, but he says, " burrata and calprese salads were their favourites."
He would sometimes get the inside scoop on the team gossip. “Once II heard a rumour he was leaving and asked him about it, he laughed and said fake news."
They also had a language barrier to overcome: “Odsonne's girlfriend would text in French and I'd translate it on my phone or they'd show me pictures of what they wanted."
By the end of their time in Scotland he had even introduced the couple to some Glaswegian patter.
When La Pastina Deli first opened, Odsonne popped in. At the time he was in the process of leaving Celtic to join Crystal Palace, and John said, "I didn't ask him, he just did that himself, he is such a nice guy."
John affectionately refers to his wife, Lyndsey, “as the voice of reason”. She was the person who suggested he should take the plunge and open the deli with his business partner.
He first met his wife at Smithycroft Secondary School, Riddrie; they were even in the same home economics class.
His wife has been a major support over the years while he worked insane hours, as John explains: “This is now her time, she has started training as a nurse. I'm not doing stuff outside of La Pastina Deli."
The result is that his working life balance has changed for the better, but if either of his two children are unwell he is the one on daddy day-care duty.
He has two daughters, Freya (9) and Evie (3) who are both keen to help out in the kitchen and he laughs, “They think they own the shop." And John would be delighted if either of them followed in his footsteps, he said, "it's not done me any harm."
As a young man he had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant and opened a Business ISA when he first started his apprenticeship at The Hilton, with a view to opening his own place one day. Instead, he used all his savings to buy his wife's engagement ring!
He was going to romantically propose to her on holiday in Italy. The plan was to do the deed in front of the Trevi fountain but, he said, "I completely bottled it as soon as I had bought the ring, I was such a gibbering wreck so instead I woke her up at home that night and proposed."
Although the pair did visit Rome on holiday, he explains: “We did tourist stuff but we found the best place to eat on the last day, it looked like a small shop but you walked in the back and it was a restaurant."
One of the perks of owning La Pastina Deli is: "I know our lasagne is amazing because we happily eat that at home every week. And they also make a range of puddings, including cannoli which uses dough which is also rolled through the pasta machine, luckily he adds: "I love a tiramisu, and we have to make that every day"
They are extremely grateful for the support from the Italian community who have embraced the new venture, but, with this support, John’s desire to see everything goes well means he has found it difficult to delegate. "I'm such a control freak."
And although there have been challenges in setting up the deli, John and his business partner initially planned to make handmade pizza, but couldn’t due to planning consent, instead John suggested that they could make fresh pasta.
Initially his business partner wasn't sure, but John convinced him saying "trust me, it will work".
John first made fresh pasta as part of his apprenticeship but although he has made it throughout his career, his passion came during lockdown when he was furloughed.
He jokes: “Everyone had a sourdough habit or banana bread obsession but mine was making pasta and pizza. You can make pizza with any flour but when there was flour shortages no one touched OO grade flour because they didn't know how to use it, so there was always an abundance of it on the shelves."
He now makes a range of fresh pasta for the deli including; Spaghetti, Linguini, Tagliatelle, Casarecce, Conchiglie, Pappardelle, Garganelli, Ravioli, Ancelotti, but only a few of those options are available each day.
Organising the display and packaging is where his manufacturing background comes in useful with design and packaging.
He says: “It looks really good and it's fresh pasta not dried, which makes all the difference."
He said nowadays, "people want something quick, they can grab the spaghetti and fresh pesto sauce or the cannelloni and take home to heat", and customers can even order online with Deliveroo.
Although he has worked in kitchens where the demand for excellence has been high, he is enjoying the challenge of running the business. "It's a different style of pressure which I'm adapting to, but I have more freedom than I have ever had, I have no-one to answer to so we are changing stuff daily which keeps it interesting all the time.
“I will always get that question, ‘why are you not Italian?’ but why do I have to be Italian to run a deli.”
He prides himself on the deli’s authenticity because he stocks and sells mainly Italian goods. "I'm a Scottish guy so I have to do everything super true, we can't cut corners.”