Real Lives: Reward for a life dedicated to food

Mary Contini said she was both 'delighted and honoured' that her long-standing presence within the Scottish-Italian community has been recognised. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Mary Contini said she was both 'delighted and honoured' that her long-standing presence within the Scottish-Italian community has been recognised. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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MARY Contini, the director of Edinburgh food chain Valvona & Crolla, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Accolade at the Scottish Italian Awards.

The mother of two, who was brought up in Cockenzie, said she was born into the catering industry and working in cafés has always been “a way of life”.

She said she was both “delighted and honoured” that her long-standing presence within the Scottish-Italian community has been recognised.

Mary, who was born in 1956, was the daughter of Johnny and Gertrude Di Ciacca, and had seven brothers and sisters.

She was the granddaughter of Italian immigrants who moved to Scotland at the beginning of the 19th century from Lazio, near Rome.

She grew up in a home above her family’s ice cream and fish and chip shop, known as the “Cockenzie Café”, where she worked from an early age. Her parents also ran a busy seaside restaurant and catering business, as well as their café.

Mary went on to study at Edinburgh University, gaining a BSc in biological sciences. She then gained a post-graduate diploma in management at Heriot-Watt, before starting a management trainee course with the Littlewoods department store chain in 1977.

But when she met her husband, Philip Contini, at an Italian dance, she began working for Valvona & Crolla, which was run by his family.

Mary has now been a director of the famous Italian delicatessen since 1983.

The couple have two children, Francesca and Olivia. Francesca, 34, is now also a director of the company.

Mary said: “I brought my own catering and management experience to Valvona & Crolla when I joined.

“Running a family business is very intense, but its great that you are in control of your own destiny.”

Having been involved in the food business all her life, and grown up with women who were all distinctive great cooks, Mary has a direct attitude to food and cooking.

In October 2009, Mary, who now lives in East Lothian, released a cookbook named Valvona & Crolla: 
A Year at an Italian Table, showcasing the best Italian dishes to eat during each season.

In 2011, for her services to the promotion of Italian food and the history of Italians, Mary was awarded the title “Cavaliere” by the Republic of Italy – the equivalent to a British OBE.

And now after winning the Lifetime Achievement Accolade at the third annual Scottish Italian Awards, Mary has been recognised for being “instrumental in the growth of Italian cuisine and Italian businesses across Scotland”.

She said: “I am delighted and honoured to be awarded this prestigious lifetime award.

“Expanding the business and brand, and now working with the next generation to continue the family business, has been a pleasure, a challenge and an adventure.”

COURTNEY CAMERON