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I came for eight months and stayed 18 years!

  • 2018-12-20
  • Philip Houseley

Currently hosting the popular TV24 daily cookery show, ‘La Dolce Vita’, Roberto Meloni, the talented celebrity Italian chef, now has Latvia in his blood and has no plans to return to his native Sardinia. The Baltic Times talked about his extraordinary career and how living in Riga is just his ‘cup of tea’.

What was the reason for your move from Italy to Latvia?

I won a scholarship to teach Italian in secondary schools for 8 months and to learn languages at the same time.  I was a teacher in Sardinia and wanted to teach Italian as a foreign language overseas somewhere.

And Latvia was your first choice?

No, it wasn’t. I wanted to go to Portugal, but that was not possible. They said we can send you to a very similar Country!  Well, you have the same beautiful beaches here, right?

The Latvian language was difficult to learn for an Italian, surely?

It was, yes. I think it is the 3rd oldest language in Europe. However, the way you write and pronounce words is wonderful. I loved it, but it was not easy. I was living with a Latvian family and therefore I had to speak Latvian.  That was a big incentive.

You also speak Russian amongst other languages. Surely that was more difficult?

No, actually it was easier. You can show your emotions better in Russian. The intonation is different, but in the end it was ok.

Your main interests are music and cookery. How did the music interest start?

Music has been my life from an early age.  I started singing when I was 4 years old. I am the youngest of 5 children and my parents spoilt me, but also taught me that if you want something badly, you should go for it. I was brought up on a sheep farm and I was singing in the village hall in the evenings.

And when you came to Latvia, that career took off?

I took part in a talent show in 2004 similar to X Factor, and I reached the Final. Because of that I was invited to sing on other TV shows – singing in Latvian! And that in turn led to other music shows. Dancing with Stars for example, and also hosting other shows as well as singing. Late came “Strictly Come Dancing”, the Latvian version of the hugely popular BBC Tv series, now in its 16th year. I am not a good dancer, but I had the Latvian 7-times champion as my tutor and partner.  It was a wonderful experience.  I love singing ballads and also the fast, fun dance songs. It is great when I am on stage, and I can have fun interacting with the audience.  I sing Sinatra songs and songs in French, Italian and Latvian. My favourite is probably ‘One More Time’ when Raimonds Pauls accompanied me on his piano.  Great memory.  

Where did you learn to cook?

My mother taught me all I know about cookery, and I also taught myself. As a family at home she cooked all the time and I took mental notes.  One day, here in Riga,I received a call from out of the blue from a Producer at TV 24,  asking me to audition as a host for a new cookery show. At first I thought it must be a joke. However, I was chosen and it was a big surprise. Yes, I was happy of course, but I am very surprised and proud at how successful it has been.

Latvia has been good to you then? Are you happy here?

Yes, I am. I love it here and I love the people.  Latvians are very warm and friendly. I am often stopped in the street and I make sure I have time for people.

I was recognised more when I was singing regularly on television.  Latvia has changed a lot for the better since I first arrived. The Art Nouveau buildings are fantastic.  The winters are not so bad if you dress for them – it is just the dark days with no sunshine that depress me a little. However, there are many plus points to offset that.  Riga is a very clean city and the people, as I said, are really nice.  Yes, I am very happy here and have no plans to leave.  I love the Museums, the Galleries and in fact the whole culture of Latvia.  I feel very safe here.  What surprised me most when I first came is how everyone is on time for meetings.  In Italy it is ok to be 10-15 minutes late! I like that.

But Latvia is not just Riga. There are so many towns everywhere, that are very beautiful and some excellent restaurants all over the Country.

Where do you feel most at home now – Italy or Latvia?

I feel at home in both. For example, when I return home, I miss Latvia. It is more alive here, but I do miss the heat and the blue sea!  My first winter here was very cold with lots of snow. But now I have grown to love winter. In Sardinia there is not much warming indoors, as usually winters there are mild, but here everything is built to cope with Latvian winter temperatures.

You always appear happy and carefree on TV. Do you have mood swings like the rest of us?

Sure, of course!  On TV I have to give the impression that everything in the garden is wonderful. Of course, I have problems like everyone else, but I cannot show it. Reading newspapers these days, it is not easy to feel happy. But when I am on air, or on stage, I remember what a beautiful city this it to live in and how lucky I am to have a job that I love and am very happy with.  

Amazingly, you have represented Latvia twice in the Eurovision Song Contest. How did that come about?

I was in a group called Bonaparti and we decided to enter the show to choose the song that entered Eurovision.  The year was 2007.  We won and went to Helsinki to represent Latvia.  We finished in 16th place.

And the following year?

It was with another group – called Pirates Of The Sea.  Again, there were some strong Latvian singers and groups attempting to be the Latvian representatives.  But we were chosen, and in 2008 the finals were held in Belgrade. The Swedish entry that year were favourites to win.  It was a female singer and she did not like us or our music at all. She made that very clear. But we had the last laugh, as Sweden finished in 16th place, and we came 12th!

How about the future?  You have said you plan to stay in Latvia, what will you be doing apart from the cookery show?

I have the stage comedy/drama continuing mid-December, and into February and March next year.  Hopefully a TV show in Italy and Malta.  I would love to write a cookery book about Pasta – the various types of Pasta and what dishes you can create with them.  The daily show on Riga 24 of course will continue, and that takes a lot of my time. I like to combine different recipes from different cultures and religions.  I have sweet tooth and love chocolate and cakes!  In Italy, for example, I used to have a sweet breakfast – Croissants with chocolate cream - a wonderful start to the day. All in all, a very busy and interesting year ahead. I am looking forward to it.