Interview with The Godfather of Italian Cooking: Antonio Carluccio

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How do you feel when the media describe you as the godfather of Italian cuisine?

I always think the word ‘godfather’ has something to do with the Mafia. I would not know however what else I could have been called. In a positive and appropriate sense I feel it is flattering.

What were the rewards of touring Italy with Gennaro Contaldo another Italian chef, exploring the countryside, cities, traditions and food?

I have known Gennaro Contaldo for about 30 years. The similarity to observe Italian cooking although from two different points of view was rewarding. Knowing his investigative character I thought we equally gained from the confirmation of our combined heritage. This was also very beneficial for the spectator.

What do you think is the secret of your success?

Passion, a portion of greed and the taste buds in the right place as well as my love of sharing with other people.

How important is the connection between the Italian family and food?

It is the most important connection because it offers the opportunity of sharing meals and being able to discuss all sorts of themes and experiences with family.

What are the links between the different regions in Italy and cooking?

There are only some dishes, which today are common to all the regions such as Spaghetti, Pizza and Panetone. Otherwise there are 20 more regions, which are all different with their own desire of being authentic and working with their local ingredients to create the best food.

Why is food so important in Italy?

According to Pelegrino Artusi there are two things equally important in life: eating and procreation. One without the other is impossible. So it is just as well to preserve the attention to food, which lasts all your life.

Why do you think people are fascinated by Italy, its culture and food?

It is well known, that Italy has been the cradle of culture of music, art, architecture. Food is the complementary addition, which nurtures this diverse culture.

Some might describe you as the original celebrity chef. What do you think about the whole celebrity chef culture and do you think they have raised the profile of good food?

I see myself not as a celebrity chef but as a cook wanting to spread the gospel. To do this I had to be able to cook and to broadcast. There are some chefs, who work on the sole effect of being a celebrity, but I believe that is a limited way of seeing life. All in all during the 37 years I have been in London I have seen a raising of the bar in food production also due to the more adventurous development of more than 80 ethnic world cuisines and their ingredients available in London.

What advice can you share with consumers wanting to cook traditional Italian food but worried about how it will turn out?

Be fearless! Provide yourself with a big dustbin or a dog or two, invite your friends and try until you succeed!

What are your favourite ingredients / recipes?

Flour, olive oil, tomatoes and basil. With those simple ingredients you can make many different things. When I decide to eat something that I desire at that precise moment – that is my favourite recipe.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of coming into the industry as a chef?

Some people want to become a chef because they have no alternative and discover they can cook and enjoy it. Others may want to become a celebrity chef. Because the status of a chef in the last 30 – 40 years has enormously increased and because it has become very respectable, there are many who attempt that. That reminds me of when I put a question to an aspirant chef who came to ask for work and I asked him, what he had done before. ‘Oh yes, I was a chef in a restaurant.’ ‘ what were you cooking there?’ ‘I was cooking Pizza!’ ‘ What kind of Pizza?’ ‘ Pizza No 1, 2 …’ ‘ Good day!’

As to advice? It is an illusion, that you can become a chef very quickly. You can become a good chef or cook if you are humble, patient, forgetting the usual free hours of liberty at least for a while. Be honest and try to make other people happy.

What are your plans for the future?

I am 76 years old and my plans don’t diminish. There are infinite projects but I need to prioritise. In my mind there will be more books, possible TV work and I shall work to maintain Carluccio’s at the same level of quality. I don’t think I will ever be retired.

 

 Antonio Carluccio’s new book, Pasta, is out now (Quadrille, £20) Photography by Laura Edwards. Available here.