The Gourmet Godfather

It’s a treat when the lunch crowd spots Carluccio in his namesake restaurant. They come as regulars or as food fans who know this avuncular Italian from his television series and many cookbooks.

He always has food on his mind, be it for a new recipe book or TV appearance. He keeps his hand in with the development of dishes in his restaurants too.

Always going back to his favourite place on the plate:  rustic Italian and pasta, pasta, pasta.

His specialist subject you might say. There’s never time to be bored with pasta, as much of a staple as it might be.

“It is about tasting, readjusting and making sure the combination of produce, time and materials is right – until you get perfection”, he concludes.     

As we sit in the original Garrick Street restaurant he tries a new dried pasta that will be on sale in the deli. He calls a waiter to ask chef to dish up a plate of the new filled pasta, suggesting to the kitchen that it will work with a light cream sauce.

After signing a few more books, bowls of pasta arrive at our table. We eat the raviolini – proscuitto-filled pasta with a light cream sauce as Antonio muses on the fact that this is the ultimate fast-food.

“Minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour is what I say. Italian food is about a combination of flavours to complement quality ingredients.  The result is a union not a fight.

“Italians have been making these food combinations for a long time so they have achieved perfection.”

So whilst you might see chocolate pasta – you won’t see any wild and wacky pasta combinations that smack of the ‘F’ word.

“Fusion is confusion when it comes to food. Italian food is classic and doesn’t need any new adaptation.  We Italians question the flavours people put together – mozzarella and lemongrass, fusion confusion!”

Antonio has been bringing us rustic Italian food classics since 1983 when he made his first appearance on BBC 2 talking about Mediterranean food.  

Subsequently he has written many books and made numerous television programmes including the hugely popular Antonio Carluccio’s Northern Italian Feast and Southern Italian Feast. He and pal Gennaro Contaldo became loved as Two Greedy Italians, in a series which perfectly pitched at their food heritage and passion for their homeland.

Antonio was born on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy  and raised in the wooded North-West, hence his breadth of culinary knowledge. It was in Piedmont, at the age of seven that Antonio started his life-long pasttime of hunting and collecting mushrooms and funghi with his father.

“As a child I remember mama doing wonderful things in the kitchen – I would collect wild rucola, chestnuts, mushrooms and it was a joy to see what she made. I collected mushrooms from a very young age with someone who told me all about them. It is a question of learning from a young age about food.

“I would come home to mama’s kitchen and dive into the fridge for things like stuffed peppers, capers, bread tomatoes, oregano. Today I love good quality produce – I will eat a simple spaghetti with lemon and some oil or I love pork, chicken and game, especially grouse. For a quick meal I love a simple tagliata.”

Click for Antonio’s Pasta e Fagioli and Penne Giardiniera

Photography ©Tony Briggs