Gabriele Rubini, a former rugby player who reinvented himself as Chef Rubio, is teaching 10 inmates at the prison near Gaza City how to make the perfect pasta – as well as learning about Palestinian cuisine.
“My target is to share with them all I know and I want to learn from them all they know,” he said during his 10-day trip to the enclave with an Italian NGO.
He said Palestinian food shares many similarities with that of Italy.
“Around the Mediterranean Sea all the cultures were mixed,” he said. Chefs “use not many ingredients, good quality and it is all about sharing the food.”
A longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, Rubini has been sharing his experience in Gaza with more than 750,000 fans via his Facebook page.
Speaking to AFP, Rubini said he worked in prisons because “jail is a place where there is a lot of humanity”.
“Someone made a mistake and can in jail (be) reborn and be a better man in the outside world,” he said.
On Facebook, he wrote that “this marvellous group of people has become like a second family.”
Islamist movement Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2008 and have fought three wars with Israel, which maintains a crippling blockade on the impoverished territory.
Rubini's pupils, serving time for non-violent crimes, said they took inspiration from the cooking lessons.
“This is a great training opportunity,” said Sami Baraka, who has served most of a two-year sentence. “I'm going to open an Italian restaurant in Gaza.”