At a contest which saw the UK’s best Italian chefs go head to head last week, a competitor from Oxford was perched on the edge of his seat as judges sampled his entry.

The dish was a fresh pappardelle with slow-cooked rabbit ragu, cooked by Uberto Scarpati, head chef at Jericho independent restaurant Mamma Mia.

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It’s in the first fork, according to Mr Scarpati, that you can see the joy of a new food discovery in the face of someone eating.

He said: “When somebody tries one plate, the first fork, you see on the face quickly if it is perfect.

“This is the best thing for me as a chef.”

Mr Scarpati, who lives in Kidlington, won the Pasta Chef of the Year trophy at the Pasta, Pizza and Italian Food Association Awards after his traditional Neapolitan dish impressed judges, including celebrity chef Theo Randall.

The 49-year-old first came to the UK six years ago with his wife, so they could live near his daughter who was working in Britain.

Before the job at Mamma Mia, he had a long and varied career as a chef, working in Italy and France.

Though he was cooking with his family of chefs in the home as a child, it was not until he was 18 that he first worked in a restaurant kitchen.

He said: “I was born in Naples, and I started there as a young, young chef in a kitchen with my uncle.”

His first restaurant in Naples won a coveted national award in Italy recognising it as number 65 in the list of the best places to eat traditional Neapolitan style pizza in the world.

Much like a Michelin star, this award did not follow him once he had left, but stayed with the former family restaurant.

After cutting his culinary teeth in Naples, Mr Scarpati and his family moved to Sardinia to open a restaurant and hotel.

After a spell of several years on the island, he made the decision to move to Paris,

He said: “ For six years made food there and we were recognised for having some of the best pizza in all of Paris.”

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After the family’s time in Paris, it was back again to Sardinia to open another restaurant, before he eventually came to the UK.

He said: “Mamma Mia was my first job when I came to the UK. Slowly, slowly, I was working at the Summertown restaurant until I was made head chef at the Jericho restaurant.”

At Mamma Mia, Mr Scarpati said he had the freedom to make some of his favourite traditional meals from the south of Italy.

He said: “My favourite thing to cook in the restaurant is pizza and pasta of course.

“I also love fish because I was born near the sea, but the pasta and pizza is my favourite.”

He added: “There is different food if you change city by city across Italy, you can have different lasagne, different pasta, different pappardelle.”

His winning pappardelle and rabbit ragu dish at the competition was also inspired by his southern Italian heritage.

Mr Scarpati said: “It is a recipe we in Naples have done for many years with a long history.”

He claims the basis of the dish is from 500BC, but that it has been changed over the millenia, with the tomato ragu a relatively recent addition.

Though he is inspired by the traditional cooking of his homeland, the head chef is not afraid to add a twist to the food he serves.

The pappardelle, for example, usually includes cherry tomatoes in the ragu sauce, but in the UK, Mr Scarpati has changed the recipe to include chopped tomato passata in their place, for fear of the dish being too oily.

He thinks Oxford is an interesting city for people fond of food.

Mr Scarpati said: “I think it is a great place for food because you can find a lot of different ingredients from the rest of the world, and you can have tastes and flavours from different parts of the world brought together.”

He added: “I think it is a really open city and the people eating here will try anything you offer them.

“Sometimes that might be nice traditional food, but also some things which are very different. This is amazing: you don’t find this everywhere.”

On the rare occasion he is not working, Mr Scarpati likes to visit some of Oxford’s other restaurants to sample these tastes of the world himself.

He said: “I visit other restaurants to try all the different cooking because I love to have new experiences with food.

“For me, I think one thing is really important with food: that food is a memory.

“Everybody, we have something in our memory when eat a certain food, and it is different for all of us.”

Italian food is often thought of as a favourite in UK households, with many making their own variants on popular recipes like Spaghetti Bolognese; so why does the chef think his country’s food is so appealing to Brits?

He said: “I think the people of the UK like Mediterranean food in general, not just Italian food: Spanish food, French food.

“Maybe because the taste is more passionate? Maybe it is because in Italian food there is a lot of umami flavour.”

Mr Scarpati said he feels he has a ‘working family’ in his colleagues at Mamma Mia, and said independent restaurants like the Jericho Italian offer something unique which chain eateries cannot copy.

Working in a restaurant is a notoriously hard career choice, and Mr Scarpati said young chefs looking to enter the kitchen should be prepared to make it their life’s passion.

He said: “For all young people you can say this: it might not be for you because you work on the weekend when the whole world is outside to enjoy life.”

The chef said a mentor once told him to look at all the highlighted dates in a calendar: Christmas, New Years, birthdays, and to accept he would probably be working during those periods.

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He added: “The worst enemy of a chef is arrogance.

“You need to share with your colleagues and take from them the advice they give you.

“For young people, you need to enjoy the work and have a passion, a love for it. It is what you make it.”

Living as an EU citizen in the uncertain political climate of the UK does not worry Mr Scarpati.

But he said the UK needs to commit to one path to stop the atmosphere of uncertainty which is currently in place across the country.

Like working in a kitchen, he said it will be what the country makes of it.

He said: “If you decide to be in you need to work for that, but if you want to go out, you need to work for that.”

Chefs are often asked what they cook and eat outside of the restaurant, and it has led to memorable responses from celebrity chefs like Gary Rhodes, who once said a bowl of cornflakes is his go-to after work meal.

But for Mr Scarpati, cooking outside of work is not a chore, but a way to unwind.

He said: “When I am not at work sometimes my moment of cooking is an anti-stress technique. I am happy when I cook.”

“When I am home I try to make something new, maybe something Indian, something Lebanese, or maybe something from Thailand.”

He admitted these ambitious recipes do not always work out however.

He added: “I like to improve myself.

“When I see something new I want to try to do it.

“Sometimes it will work out, but other times it does not. I just try to improve.”