Talented chef Daniele Cusimano was at a loose end during quarantine – so he started cooking from home.
His lockdown kitchen business, The Next Meal, has been such a hit the 29-year-old decided to quit his job at one of Teesside’s top restaurants.
Now customers are coming back “three or four times a month” for the Kirklevington cook’s Italian dishes, inspired by his home town of Naples.
Bestsellers include his Neapolitan lasagne and delicious ‘burnt’ cheesecake.
And after being left without any work, wondering what his future would be, he says he’s “very happy” about his new venture.
Daniele moved to Kirklevington from London a year ago with girlfriend India Johnson, who comes from Yarm.
He had spent five years refining his skills in top restaurants in the capital, including Camino and Lurra.
“I was working in Muse in Yarm when we moved but they had to close because of the lockdown,” he said.
“I was nervous, I didn’t know what this pandemic would bring.
“I didn’t know what to do with all this free time.”
But Daniele had been thinking of doing food from home for a while.
“Muse phoned me to go back in June when they decided to reopen, but I decided to follow my dream.
“I’m really happy about it.
“It was time to step out and do something on my own.”
He added: “I do really good Italian food, which is my background, with a bit of Spanish influence.”
Daniel is from Naples, which is the home of the pizza, but his signature dishes are mainly pasta.
“It’s inspired by my childhood,” he says.
“I also worked almost five years in a Spanish restaurant in London.
“I was sous chef in a Basque restaurant, the area is well known for the simplicity of the food.
“I had a lot of free time and my mother in law said ‘this is the right time for you’.”
Daniele’s dishes come with freshly-cooked pasta, which the customer boils for a three minutes.
He said: “It’s all about the taste. The feedback is very good.
“Some customers are coming back three and four times a month.”
He added: “Running a kitchen from your home is very different.
“Sous chef is one of the most stressful positions in the kitchen, following guidance from the head chef.
“I was ready for this.”
Now Daniele is dreaming of owning his own restaurant.
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“People want to get back to normality, there is always space for a restaurant.
“People want to eat good food and have a great experience in a great, stylish restaurant.
“The market is still there, it’s just on stand-by.”