When was the last time you did something for the first time? In 2018, Kaley Chu stepped out of her comfort zone and had lunch with 100 strangers to come out of her shell, gain confidence and change her life.
Born in Hong Kong where English was not her first language, she had a good job in Melbourne which paid well and on the surface life was fine; but if you looked deeper, she had no goals for the future – life was simply a cycle of work, home, Facebook, dinner, sleep…REPEAT!
Fast forward a year, Kaley is now a social butterfly who can’t stop talking – her mindset, confidence, social network, goals and plans have all changed – just because she had lunch with 100 strangers.
This is her story:
When my journey began three years ago, I didn’t know where it would take me. However, after having had lunch with 100 strangers, my life has changed completely.
Paul and Kaley enjoy lunch with a stranger at La Camera.
This time around, I had the opportunity to meet a captivating person and also his first-class restaurant. Paul Scidone is one of those people you cannot help but admire and his restaurant, La Camera Southgate does not fall behind!
Paul’s story is one of resilience, growth and rediscovery of himself. Throughout our conversation, he kept giving some of the best life advice ever - his message was so strong it kept resonating graciously in my head.
After being one of Australia’s best tennis coaches, Paul went through some mental health problems and had to leave his practice. He had dedicated a considerable part of his life to coaching and now that was gone.
In 2013, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after suffering for 25 years; on average, a normal person is diagnosed after 10 years, this is why Paul set about sharing his story so nobody else has to go through the same in silence.
Having to steer clear of such a central part of their lives would have been devastating to anybody, yet Paul found the strength necessary to overcome the setback and head towards a new goal.
After assuming the marketing and training managerial tasks of La Camera, Paul began his journey in a completely different industry. He didn’t let any difficulty stop him and he pushed through the problems.
Our strangers’ lunch began with a marvellous tour of his restaurant - Paul was gentle enough to walk me through every room and explain everything to me. From the original idea to the recipes and pictures hanging on the wall, I listened intently to everything he had to say.
The moment was embellished by the natural light which entered the restaurant from the terrace, making it the perfect scene for a deep and enlightening conversation.
Antipasti delights to tempt all palates.
As we sat on the terrace to eat, Paul showed me his VIP card program, which is just another sign of how creative, resourceful and amiable this man is.
One of his mottos is to make every guest feel like family in his restaurant and I sure did; not only for the wonderful attention I received, but also for the insightful comments and advice. It felt like talking to a mentor, or a wise relative.
Paul believes one of the keys to success is doing more than your competitors, you need to go the extra mile to achieve things. In this sense, he offers many interesting activities in his restaurant to attract the crowds and detach himself from the competitors.
In our conversation, Paul told me: "If I die tomorrow, I die happy.” I realised immediately I was talking to someone who was not only happy, but also at peace with himself after his mental health challenges.
One of the pillars of Paul’s life and philosophy is humour - apart from staying happy, he tries to spread his joy to the world and is determined to bring a smile to everyone who visits the restaurant.
As part of his different programs and activities at the restaurant, he even had a joke of the week competition! Paul told me humour helps him every day.
He shared his ‘Happy Stocktake’ with me - a long list of things he does in his life to remain happy.
The first one is hope: coming from someone whose mind played against him, this is something remarkable. Regardless of the situation, Paul told me to never lose hope; he never did and look at him now!
The second one is health: divided into smaller parts like exercise, nutrition, sleep and routine, Paul believes exercising is one of the most effective ways to stay happy because it is an easy way to release endorphins. If you can tap into your hormonal system for some happiness, why not do it?
La Camera’s terrace…perfect place for lunch with a stranger.
Food is a crucial part of our lives, no matter who you are and what you do. Having good nutrition can improve our life, we also need to nurture not only our stomach but our mind and our soul.
Sleep is also crucial for being healthy. If you ever tried to do something sleep-deprived, you know what I mean! A good sleeping pattern can do wonders for you and is also part of having a good routine.
Simplicity and complexity co-exist within this ingredient. Having a routine does not seem like something that could bring happiness to you, but it sure can! Doing the right things and having a system for it can make you feel more comfortable and, in turn, happier.
The last one is family and all the mentioned parts factor here. You need to be healthy and active to take care of your family. You need your family to give you strength and hope and ultimately, you need hope to continue believing things can get better.
I realised how paramount family was for Paul when he showed me all the pictures hanging on the walls; each one of them had a rich story behind it.
We can never stop growing, learning, improving - this the Kaizen philosophy, a Japanese idea that we can never stop improving.
This is what Paul believes in and what he did, he aimed for the stars and worked hard to reach them. Paul told me that life is easy: "You just need to do the work, focus and do what is necessary to achieve what you want.”
This is the part of our conversation I remember when I feel like doubting myself; it is messages like this which give meaning and purpose to 100 Lunches with Strangers. Talking to people like Paul is proof of one of the ideas that inspired me to begin this journey:
One connection can change your life.
The idea of 100 Lunches with Strangers was born with that same thought. Having lunch with strangers is about creating connections, connecting with another mind, another soul, another culture and all of that with something as tribal as having lunch.
Regardless of his mental health problems, Paul never lost his drive, purpose and more essentially, he never lost hope. We can all have a break down, we can all have problems and illnesses and it is fine. Not losing hope is the key to overcoming anything.
After some time off the courts, Paul has returned to tennis coaching. He kept pushing forward to overcome the difficulties and it paid off for him! For Paul’s tennis coaching career, the future looks good!
Our conversation was as good as the cheesy arancini we ate and I can tell you, those were some delicious arancini! I never stop to be amazed by how food can help us connect - even in times like this, where we feel broken apart by this pandemic, a lunch can bring us closer
Highlighted video: https://youtu.be/eL08t2IsaNw