What I know about women: Adriano Zumbo

Date

Jane Rocca

Adriano Zumbo, pastry chef, 34, single

Adriano Zumbo.

Adriano Zumbo.

My earliest memories of Mum [Anunciata] are of her working just as hard as Dad [Frank] to run their IGA supermarket in Coonamble [in central-western NSW]. She worked long hours and brought a little bit of Italy to their store, and also made hot food for customers. The town was mostly Anglo or Aboriginal, and I remember people saying they loved her food and asking her to make it again. They ran a service station, too, and sold hot food as well as petrol. Mum's Italian meals gave the town something different and people looked up to her.

Mum came to Australia from Calabria in the '60s. She holds traditional values and raised us to be respectful, mindful of others and to always follow our passion in life.

She was very protective of me when I was growing up. She didn't want me to get up to mischief, so I was pretty much at the supermarket every day after school until I left at 15 to move to Sydney to take on a pastry-chef apprenticeship.

My maternal grandmother [Rosa] moved to Australia when I was born and raised me until I was four. She did this to help her daughter out, as Mum was working a lot. I could only speak Italian when I started school. My grandmother was affectionate, a great cook and always took care of me.

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When I was young, I got told not to wash my hair too much or it would fall out - it did anyway! The Italian women in my life were always very loving and caring, even if they were a little superstitious at times.

When I visited Calabria, I saw women in our family who never thought twice about inviting others into their home, making them a coffee or offering a meal. I'd take my shirt off to have a sleep and before you knew it, it was washed and folded beside my bed. Italian women are self-sufficient and family is the centre of their universe.

I have two older sisters, Rosalba [12 years older] and Trisha [10 years older]. They both moved out of home to go to boarding school in Sydney while I was still in primary school. I was devastated. They would write me letters and when the mail arrived I would run into the supermarket's cold room to read them and cry.

My sisters are still very protective of me. It's an Italian thing! When I moved to Sydney to start my apprenticeship at 15, I moved in with my older sister, who was already living there. Rosalba was the one who would drive me to my work at midnight or 3am. She didn't mind, she felt happy doing it.

I definitely noticed girls from a young age. I had crushes on the good-looking and popular ones at school. I would write cheeky love letters and slip one into someone's desk just to see their reaction. I kept my feelings under cover.

My first girlfriend, in grade four, was called Pru. We wrote love letters to each other and I bought her a rose. I remember once I was playing with Matchbox cars in the front room at home with a friend when she turned up with her mum to bring me a rose and a card. I was so embarrassed. Here I was trying to act all cool and then I'm on the floor with a friend, racing cars.

My first kiss was at a party in primary school, playing spin the bottle. It was embarrassing when you actually had to kiss the nearest girl - I freaked out. Everybody did.

As I got older, I didn't really care for the prettiest girls as much as I was attracted to those girls with great personalities. When you're young, looks are everything, but there's more to life than that.

Guys can fall hard in love; we get hurt too. I got engaged in my early 20s and it went pear-shaped. I kept trying to make a situation work but sometimes you need to realise you can't change people and you either accept it or you don't. I ended up leaving Sydney and going to Cairns to get my head right again.

I am single at the moment and am kept very busy with work. Over the years I have dated a variety of women - beauticians, lawyers, a dancer/model ... You know when something feels right, or whether it will last.

I am not that needy and don't have to go from one relationship to another. I go with the flow. I've never been worried about being alone and there is no pressure to get married, although I would love to do it one day with the right girl.

I've become good at judging whether a girl wants to be around you just because she's after your status, or because you're popular. Luckily for me, I am mostly attracted to genuine ones. But my work is my all - my schedule revolves around it and it will take a special woman who is understanding of that. I am in the public eye a lot and I need a strong woman who can handle the attention I get and not get upset if I cuddle a stranger for a social photo. •

Adriano Zumbo will host Zumbo's Just Desserts on Channel 7, starting August 22.