In October Gemelli hosted an Al Fresco Street Food Fair to celebrate its first birthday as one of Joburg’s newest and most popular Italian restaurants. But it had taken founder Alessandro Khojane almost five years to bring it to fruition. Raised in Rome, Khojane and business partner Paulo Santo – who is also head chef – wanted a restaurant that has “Italy’s rich heritage and delicious food, but is also modern”. Khojane tells us about his love for Italy, putting family first and the dish he named after himself.

Where does your love for Italian cuisine come from?

I was raised in Italy. That’s where my love of the food started. When I started in the restaurant game, I first worked at an Italian restaurant where I learned how to cook Italian food. My then employer’s mother was the one who taught me how to prepare the food so the bulk of what I know I learnt from her. The more I understood the food and what preparing it entailed, the more I fell in love with it.

Gemelli Cucina Bar is a family-run Italian restaurant started by Alessandro Khojane, which recently celebrated its first birthday.

How did you come up with the name of the restaurant? 

My brother – who looks a lot like me – and I wanted to open a restaurant so we came up with the name Gemelli, which means ‘twins’. Also, as a family-run restaurant, we wanted a name that personifies family. My family, which is quite large (I am the youngest of six kids), is very important to me. Our slogan is La Famiglia Prima, which means Family First.

What is Gemelli's signature dish?

The Penne Alessandro – a dish I named after myself. It’s basically smoked chicken, prawns, mustard and a dash of cream, topped with a bit of Prosecco (Italian wine). The dish was inspired by my love for mustard as a kid, and I wanted to incorporate this flavour now, albeit with a more sophisticated take on mustard.

What is your favourite Italian dish?

No way, I can’t choose between two! The first is Aglio Olio, which is just pasta with a bit of olive oil, garlic and chilli (although we sometimes add some prawns to it). My other favourite is Carbonara, a traditional Italian dish made with eggs, pancetta (Italian bacon), onions and garlic. We don’t add cream to it though, which is how some South Africans prefer it. We like it the classic Italian way.

Florence or Rome?

Undoubtedly Rome – it’s where I was raised. It’s like a big museum: the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps… what more could one ask for? Rome for sure!

Gemelli – Shop 13, Posthouse Link Centre, Cnr Posthouse Street and Main Road, Bryanston