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Meet The Aussie Who Bought An Italian Home For $1.50 And Started A Culinary Movement

Meet The Aussie Who Bought An Italian Home For $1.50 And Started A Culinary Movement

In an age of record high property prices, a one euro home (AUD $1.50) in the hills of southern Italy seems too good to be true. We can all daydream about it but who would actually be mad enough to do it?

Well, Aussie Danny McCubbin was actually mad enough to do it, without knowing a soul, without knowing the language, and during a global pandemic no less.

For less than half the price of a coffee in his native Gold Coast, McCubbin purchased an old house in the Sicilian town of Mussomeli after 23 years in London working with Jamie Oliver as part of the celebrity chef’s social food programs. 

“It was always my dream to possibly move to Italy,” McCubbin told AWOL, the smile that graces all his photos audible through the phone.

“This horrible thing called Brexit happened and I knew the best part of my life wouldn’t be in London. I saw this info about the one euro house scheme in Italy and just went for it. I took a leap of faith.”

The streets of Mussomeli as seen by Danny.

Makes it sound easy, doesn’t he? That’s because Danny is an extremely humble guy. In reality, there was the odd hurdle.

Mussomeli is one of many Italian towns selling heritage properties at spare change prices. As part of the purchase the owner acknowledges their obligation to restore their new home within three years, usually costing somewhere between 5000-8000 euros ($7500-12,000 AUD). Add to that the  €3000 euro administration fee and now the cost of a one euro home is a lot closer to  €11,000 ($16,600 AUD), which is still a bargain price for a house. 

Danny was ready to move but like so many good things in 2020 it was cancelled due to COVID. 

During the pandemic, Danny volunteered in London community kitchens providing food for homeless people while his new home sat vacant in Mussomeli. By the time Danny was able to move in, he found that his house was water damaged and starting to crumble. Further to Danny’s peril was the short supply of builders, many of whom were busy with clients in a similar situation to himself.

Mussomeli by sunset. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

“When I finally found a builder the cost to renovate the house had doubled. I approached the board members of the town and it was just obvious we should just forget about it. I lost  €3000 on the paperwork but I have no regrets, I needed the house to apply for my Italian residency. I ended up selling it back for a euro!”

After various news stories that the one euro house scheme had left him homeless, Danny purchased an €8000 euro house in Mussomeli and renovated it for €5000 (for a total under $20k AUD). A year later, Danny’s can confirm all the hassle was worth it.

“I love living here! It’s perfect for me. It’s only one bedroom with a nice view of the mountains. For some it’s too quiet, but for me it’s perfect.” 

The view from Danny’s home. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

Now Danny McCubbin is living the life that most of us only daydream about. Making passive income from his property back in Australia, Danny could have put his feet up but the people of isolated and ancient Mussomeli inspired him to do something even better.

“There’s a lot of poverty here. Even pre-COVID there is no tourism or any industry that is recognisable. There’s no famous olive oil here, no famous wine, no famous cheese. It’s been abandoned, that’s why the one euro house plan started.”

Following his community work with Jamie Oliver and a successful crowdfunding campaign, Danny opened The Good Kitchen in the Mussomeli town square, a community kitchen providing meals for anyone who needs one.

“It was always my goal to set up a social project. My kitchen is about joy togetherness and family and friends. I couldn’t wish for a better project.”

Pasta making with enthusiastic locals. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

According to Danny, in need locals were reluctant to accept his edible assistance at first but were able to accept help during the second wave of COVID when older people were isolated. Now due to the war in Ukraine, electricity and gas prices have gone up, meaning demand has increased and has resulted in Danny and his volunteers producing over 100 free meals a week.

Word of The Good Kitchen started to spread, resulting in one local teenager choosing to work off their mandated community service by volunteering with Danny. They are now one of many local youths who get off the school bus and ask Danny if he needs any help cooking each day.

“There’s nothing for the kids to do in this town, no green spaces and activities. I started to invite the nonnas of the town to run cooking lessons for the kids. This nice circle where elderly people are passing on their knowledge to the kids.”

Mussomeli delicacies are true labours of love such as arancini stuffed with mince, slow cooked caponata, breaded and fried thistle called Cardoon, pasta made from the ancient grain flour from the local mill, and seasonal pasata/sugo made from the last of the summer tomatoes.

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The famous caponata. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

“They make the most unbelievable pasata here. When have you ever had pasata so flavourful you can serve it with plain pasta and nothing else? That’s how good the pasata and pasta is.” 

A new meeting place for locals with generations in Mussomeli, The Good Kitchen is also important to the five Ukrainian families who moved to town after fleeing war in their own country. Children who volunteer at The Good Kitchen asked Danny if they could have a picnic in the park with the Ukrainian kids so they could teach them Italian which, of course, Danny was happy to oblige.

Come one come all at The Good Kitchen. Mussomeli local Giuseppe with children who have recently relocated from Ukraine. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

“It’s growing organically, I don’t have to tell it what to do, it’s got a life of its own. It’s a ray of light. The town is giving back to me. People say I give a lot but I get back more than I give.” 

At the time of writing, Danny is planning to sell his current house and move to a campana (small farm) on the outskirts of town so that local kids can learn about planting and harvesting the ingredients they cook with. 

Local kids reaching for the stars after a pasta making class. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

Enjoying your homemade pasta beneath the warm sun that grew the tomatoes you’re eating seems like it’s too good to be true. Yet, for Danny it’s what he will enjoy for the rest of his life. He just has three pieces of advice for anyone wanting to do the same:

“The first thing is don’t look at it as a way you are gonna make money from it. Someone wanted to open a bike shop here even though there’s already a bike shop. The locals need to run their business and there’s just not enough tourists here. It’s not a money making venture.”

“Secondly, a lot of people in this town are now starting to sell their houses. There are a lot of houses here that you can buy that are in better condition. Most of the good one euro homes are gone and you’re looking at €20,000-30,000 ($30,000-44,000 AUD) if you want to do them up.”

Getting ready to make pasata with his hardest working volunteers. Photo by Danny McCubbin.

“Lastly, it’s a great town if you’re looking to move here and work remotely. There is a good hospital, good dentist, and good schools. If you are looking for a second home it’s a great place to be as well.”

“If you are looking for a beautiful town that’s remote and tranquil this is the place. Try to visit on a Sunday, I’m always cooking a free dinner on a Sunday. [Mussomeli is] lovely in the summer and extraordinary in winter but mostly just make sure you come on a Sunday.”

Follow Danny and The Good Kitchen’s journey on Instragram.

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