Antonio Carluccio: food lover, restaurateur, food writer, TV chef and one of Italy's greatest food ambassadors.
To celebrate the publication of his latest book, Two Greedy Italians, co-written with his old friend (and Jamie Oliver's mentor) Gennaro Contaldo, we chatted to Antonio about his journey back to rediscover his homeland and the food he most loves:
Antonio, for Two Greedy Italians, you revisited Italy with your friend Gennaro to see what was new/what had stayed the same both in the country and in the food– what did you discover?
Well, our worry was that families may not work anymore as they used to, in terms of food and the family and being together - but we saw that the sense of the family is still there, regarding food, which is great.
The small changes we saw were in the restaurants, where some people were wanting to over-do it, thinking that Italian food isn't good enough just as it is. They were concentrating on fusion food as they wanted to offer a novelty, but this is something that Italians don't like very much. Italian food is good as it is, provided that you cook it well. It's about the quality of ingredients – good ingredients, cooked well – this is what they should be concentrating on.
And how was it working with Gennaro again?
It was good. He was my collaborator for about 15 years and then we each went our own way – he went with Jamie and taught him everything he knew and then for a few years we didn't talk to each other. Then we were reunited for an article: The Return of the Godfathers, about Jamie, Gennaro and me and we decided to bury the hatchet. It was always a good friendship – we understand each other – it was really great to get together again – as you'll see in the series. [Two Greedy Italians the four-part BBC2 series begins tonight at 8pm.]
Do you have a favourite recipe from the book?
The ricotta and lemon tart with mascarpone, that's a good one – and at the moment I'm very interested in soups. Soup is like the Cinderella of the meal and there are so many fantastic recipes out there I'd love to make them into a book in the future.
You grew up as one of six children in the family – were your brothers and sisters as interested in food as you?
I had a brother, who unfortunately died, but he was also interested in food – he was not a professional, but he was interested as an amateur. The rest of the family cook, but not professionally – they do it for love.
Would your father ever have cooked when you were young, or was it only ever your mum?
Mama always did the cooking. She was amazing. I helped her a little, but I really started to cook when I moved to Vienna when I was 21 and had to cook for myself. That's how all of this started!
Were there ever any foods, growing up, that you just didn't like or wouldn't eat?
It's funny, because you have to remember that at that time, it was just after the war and you really ate everything that was put onto the table. And my mother was so fantastic at producing things from very little – even just pasta and potatoes with a little garlic in soup – even that was just fantastic.
Obviously your first love is Italian food, but are there other cuisines you enjoy?
Yes, absolutely, for example I really enjoy Chinese food – I quite like dim sum. I like any food which is prepared well, in a professional way, using good ingredients and which reflects the ethnicity of the people making it.
Given your passion for food, do you think you could ever be friends with someone who just has no interest in food?
No, not really – I would try to make them interested in it, but I don't really have much time for people who see food only as fuel, not as a delight.
You've lived in London for many years - which are your favourite London restaurants?
Well I don't really go out very much, as people might think I'm there to check them out or something, and I'm not very interested in just fashionable things, but if I do go out I go to my friends at La Famiglia or Locanda Locatelli or I eat Chinese or Indian. I tend to cook at home a lot because I like to experiment.
Do you often have friends for dinner and what do you most often cook for them?
Yes I do - and I tend to come up with new ideas, which I will try out on them.
If you could only ever eat one more meal on earth, what would it be?
I think it should be pasta, with tomato and basil – nothing beats that. And for dessert, a delicious ripe peach.
Do you ever visit Carluccio's restaurants these days?
Yes, I'm in a Carluccio's now, in Covent Garden.
And what do you order?
I'm just having a coffee – waiting for friends to come and order the Chinese!
Two Greedy Italians begins on BBC2 at 8pm tonight. The accompanying Two Greedy Italians book, published by Quadrille, is out now, priced £20.