Italy’s loss was most definitely Ireland’s gain when the teenage Lucia Cecchini came to Sligo as an au pair. Improving her English was her initial aim, but a dozen years later, she has loftier ambitions. Lucia wants to make Laura’s of Carney the best Italian restaurant around, and she’s well on the way to making that happen! Lucia is one of an exciting group of young, talented food entrepreneurs who are really putting Sligo on the map.

Perhaps she had a head start given that she hails from near Bologna in north east Italy, considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of Italy, if not the world. The region Emilia-Romagna is the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, of Balsamic vinegar, of prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham as we know it), tortellini, piadina Romagnola and much more including of course ragu alla Bolognese. Since birth Lucia has been immersed in this wonderful culture of food and has now brought it to Carney.

Lucia was raised in a traditional farming family near the town of Cesena, not far from the Adriatic coast and cities like Rimini and Ravenna. Her father grew all sorts of vegetables, kept animals and also had a vineyard and made his own wine. Aged just six, at her mother’s knee Lucia began learning to make pasta and all the traditional sauces that accompany it. Pressed to choose her favourite, she opts for the stuffed pastas – ravioli, tortellini and lasagne. Unsurprisingly they’re specialities of the house these days. She learned early to appreciate the very best of ingredients, quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars, fresh seasonal produce and of course good Italian wines. The best known local varieties are San Giovese reds and Trebbiano whites, though the wine list at Laura’s encompasses much more.

Since her mid teens Lucia has worked in the hospitality industry and studied Hotel & Catering for five years at college. She inherited a strong work ethic from her parents and at weekends and during holidays she worked in quality hotels and restaurants, always learning and developing her skills. Her plan was to spend a scant six months in Ireland perfecting her English, but things worked out rather differently. In the heel of the hunt she took up a position as Restaurant Manger in The Glasshouse Hotel where she stayed for almost ten years. Setting up her own restaurant was always on her mind however, and when Laura’s of Carney became available, Lucia decided to take the plunge. In a neat twist, her grandmother’s name is Laura, so keeping the name made perfect sense (and her Nonna loves it!).

Bar the name, not much else has remained the same – Lucia has transformed the traditional pub into a little piece of Italy. Two Italian chefs, Michele from Cagliari in Sardinia and Antonio from Bologna (naturally) make everything from scratch, just as they would at home. The bread, the pasta, the sauces and the homemade Italian sausages are all made to traditional recipes and the welcome is equally traditional. Italians from all over the northwest swarm to Laura’s of Carney like bees around a honeypot. As well as the food, the delicious aromas and the atmosphere are just like home, as is the encouragement for people to spend hours over their meal, enjoying the multiple courses of a real Italian meal.

Lucia’s family love to visit, mainly her mother who is unsurprisingly very proud of what her young daughter has achieved. Farm commitments prevent her father from travelling often and her only sister, Elisa (another food lover) has Down’s Syndrome and is nervous of flying. With a fledgling business it’s difficult for Lucia to visit home often but no doubt that will change as time passes.

For now, Sligo is lucky to have this vivacious, energetic brunette introducing the delights of genuine Italian cuisine to locals and visitors alike. Brava Lucia.