Never to Return
Antonello was not greatly impressed the first time he came to Auroville. The outer reality was not what he had thought it would be, and he had no intention to stick around. “The first time I came to Auroville was around 20 years ago to learn about Ayurvedic massage. I spent one month here and I said, ‘I will never, ever return.’ Somehow I returned every year after that until 2014, when I stayed.” In the first few years, Antonello worked in his old profession as a masseur, which he mostly did for free. When the time came to find a way to support himself and his family, he decided to make a switch: “I had always cooked so I thought, why not do it professionally? In 2016 I started to manage a small restaurant at Joy Guest House in Auroville with my friends, it was called ‘Dolce Vita.’ We had pasta and pizza night and many other happenings, but we had to close after seven months because some neighbours complained. I learned so much during this period about business and the reality in Auroville.”
In this time, he connected deeper to Auroville, seeking to relate to what Auroville stands for more inside himself than expecting to find it in the community. “When I came here, I thought this would be a place where everyone is sharing and closely knit to each other. At some point I realized that we are not this kind of community. The spiritual work is very personal; it is happening very deeply inside every single person. Connect with yourself first and make yourself happy, then this is something you bring into the community. But the community is not a ‘happy’ one. I did not find what I was looking for when I came here… I found something with more value. The vision of Auroville is so different from what you might see around, in the reality of Auroville, but to connect with the vision is so much more powerful. To step back and connect with your inner being, to connect with the real way of Auroville and the reason one is here is very important to me.”
Getting Gastronomica Together
After closing the restaurant at Joy Guesthouse, Gastronomica started to take shape. Antonello already had a pizza oven where he made pizzas for friends and family, but the tiny kitchen was not going to cut it. “I started looking for a place. I found this great spot opposite the Auroville Bakery in January 2019 and here I am. The gardener from my home helped me to set up and somewhere along the lines I started teaching him how to make bread and pasta.”
Starting off was not easy, financially speaking: “The main challenge is, to be honest, that there is very little support. So many people told me that my idea is very nice but nobody wanted to invest. I want to be self-sustainable; I do not want to be in a position that I need to ask for help from the community to support me and my family. I started out with this venture because after all these years of giving things for free, I needed to make money so I can survive. And now I have a profitable business and I am so happy. But starting off was tough. You buy one oven, you wait until you have some money. You buy a fridge, you wait until you have funds again, and so on. Slowly, I collected my tools.
Closing the Loop
Antonello came out the other side and now has a thriving business. He starts every day at 4am, and often stops only at 6 or 7 pm. His days are long, but he is nurtured by serving the people who come to his shop. His products have come together through his early months of experimentation, where he realized he needed to satisfy a very diverse clientele.” I got a lot of feedback in those early months. Now the food is a mixture that everyone likes, that somehow is liked by Italians and Indians. I love to see the people happy when they come back and tell me they liked the products I made. I work hard on improving the recipes and products to have a great taste and quality. If I reach a level where I sell so much high quality pasta that I can survive, I am very satisfied.”
More than that, there is a little touch of destiny about the work he is doing now, a sense of closing the loop on his early experiences in Auroville: “Twenty years ago when I came to Auroville for the first time I wanted to eat pasta. I asked around because I could not find it. Everyone told me, “We don’t have pasta here…” and my thought was, one day I will come back and make pasta. Even though I never wanted to come back to begin with (laughs).
For me to realize this now, that I am doing what I thought I would do 20 years ago, is incredible. It is something very special for me, that this circle has closed.”
You can find Antonello’s yummy pastas in the Auroville Online Store.