He is an Italian cook who has a huge passion for Italian cuisine, he has also produced 14 cookbooks in his lifetime and sold millions worldwide. Antonio Carluccio has awards written all over him, An order of the British Empire from the Queen and the Order of merit of the Italian republic from the Italian Government for his ongoing contribution and service to food. With such major awards, Its no surprise how successful he is.
It was a pleasure meeting the man himself at his hotel, the Four Seasons and having a face to face interview with him. As we sat down for our coffees, a familiar face grabbed Antonio’s attention, it was none other than Barry Humphries which you may know him or her as the legendary Dame Edna. It was great seeing him and a great honor as well to see a famous face. As Barry walked away after the their conversation, Antonio sat down and started sipping his espresso and the interview began.
Me : Antonio, you were born in Italy. How did an Italian man end up in the UK?
Antonio : Well, I was transported up to the North by my father who was the stationmaster of the railway. My father himself did not come from the area where I was born but a bit further. And my mother from the other side of Italy. But that was very good, because my mother on the way up to the North was already cooking all the specialties of Italian. Italy is very complex, there are 20 regions. Each one with its own food, dialect and culture. And so I found myself in Piedmont. So I grew up after the age of 22 and then on an occasion, I went to Vienna, Austria, to finish my study there. I learnt languages there, 5. And then I went to Berlin, now I found myself 35 years in London. So that’s my very brief story.
Me : I heard you were a wine merchant in Germany?
Antonio : Yes, I was a wine merchant for some time, 15 years. I continued to be wine merchant in England as well when I came in 75, for 5 years until my brother in law offered me to run his restaurant. And i like it as managing director, I loved it because I had just the space to be creative and do menus and all that. I did that and the restaurant became very successful. I bought it of them and but it was closed in 2005 because the landlord after 26 years didn’t want to prolong the lease, which was very bad. But then in the meantime, I opened together with my ex-wife, the chain of Carluccio’s, the Carluccio’s cafe. And there are now 50 franchise around. Also in 2005, the chain was floated on the stock exchange, very successful, catch good money (laughs). And now I am the consultant of the capital.
Me : From whom have you learn the most about food and cooking ?
Antonio : I had the idea of good food in the family because we always had the meals together with papa and so on. And it was very good because we could see what my mother was cooking. It was after the war time with very few ingredients to prepare one little thing. When I went then to Vienna, I had to do the food that my mother used to. I wasn’t told directly but looking, sniffing in the pan and trying to help with the shopping. That was participation to me in cooking. And when I was alone, I had to learn it. I remembered calling my mother asking her how to do this, how to do that from Vienna. And I started to cook and I saw that it was not only for me but for friends. Girls especially. (laughs) And I went on and on for 50 years.
Me : Do you cook very much of regional Italian food?
Antonio : Yeap, Yeap. Because I had the sort of intro into the originality of Italy by my mother and my father. Then I took on with interest to see which are the best dishes of the region. And later on, I did quite a lot of filming for the BBC including my own television series just about Italy and that was very good. I will do another series at the end of June, however I will put a little bit of cultural aspect into food. Because sometimes when I see on television, It’s too ‘bananas’. It’s going deep into the dishes with local ingredients and so on. It’s very fascinating.
Me : Having two books on mushrooms, you must have a huge passion for mushrooms?
Antonio : Hmmm (agrees) It all began when I was a child, Papa and a friend were taking me to truffle and mushroom picking, they told me how to pick safely one or two or three then you head on. And now I know about 200 edible mushrooms. The rest I’m not interested in, not the poisonous ones, never know what they tasted like. It is a hunt, you don’t know where they will be. When you see it, it’s fantastic. It is a quiet hunt, thus the title of my second book. I always say unless you find a bear, it will be complicated.
Me : This is not your first time in Australia, how are you enjoying it?
Yes. It is fantastic! Australia offers to me friendship and everybody loves me, that’s very good.
Me : This year, you are coming to Australia to promote your latest book titled ‘ Simple Cooking’. Can you tell us more about ‘Simple Cooking’?
Antonio : Simple cooking came about, because I wrote 12 or 13 books before and not complicated but I want to make this book more special, even more simpler. Putting the recipe that you require not a good deal of knowhow, not a good deal of money to buy ingredients also due to the economical situation and very simple indeed. Also with the possibility of using the leftovers. Because personally, I hate to throw away food. I hate how people in restaurants, they present you the purest fillet ever, what about the trimmings? What do you do with that. You know its all wastes. We waste a lot of food these days, we can feed half of Africa with that.
Me : Are you eating out a lot while you are in Australia?
Antonio : You know what? I didn’t have the possibility to go to restaurants. Unbelievable! Me, Foodie. This morning a friend of mine has taken me to wonderful shops and see a bit of the scene. And probably today, we go to Lucio’s, which is a good friend of mine. I know him from other visits and that is good food.
Me : You had a dinner event at Fort Denison last night, how did it go?
Antonio : It was very good. There was 200 people, very enthusiastic, buying a lot of books. Having my meal, the meal cooked by the organizers with my recipes. It was good. A few exceptions, I had of the pear which was very well cooked, very hard but you know those things happen.
Me : What was on the menu last night?
Antonio : The meal was sort of little fritters of corn and little crostini with wild mushrooms and a soup in a cup. The main was chicken and lemon sauce with the side of caponata which is a Sicilian vegetable dish. And then the pear, the famous pear as we call it cooked al dente.
Me : Have you got a favourite ingredient?
Antonio : Besides mushroom, truffle. I have a dog given to me and I call it Truffle.
Me : If you were to have your last meal, what will it be?
Antonio : That’s very difficult because usually when you have your last meal, you don’t want to stuff you stomach. I would say a delightful plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil.
Me : Have you got a favourite restaurant in the UK?
Antonio : I am not a restaurant goer. I have a few restaurants that I visit regularly, one of them being Chinese because i like Chinese very much. Dim Sum, they’re lovely, the trolley there, you choose and you eat. It is called ‘New World’, it is in Soho. And another one, It’s called La Familia, by a friend of mine for 30, 35 years. It does very normal Italian food, well cooked. And what else? I don’t go out. I am not curious to see what 2 or 3 Michelin do, because I do not agree with that.
Me : The chefs now, what do you think of the chefs now? They are mostly on media, aren’t they?
Antonio : Yes, media orientated, unfortunately that is the point. I have seen how the media, television especially, has made fortune from some of the chefs. Everybody tend to follow that. I met many many people, I ask them what they want to do when they grow up and they say tv chef and I find that very silly.
Me : You love making food simple but some chefs have very complicated dishes, do you disagree with complicated dishes?
Antonio : Complicated dishes and why? I think I know why. On the menu it sounds fantastic and then you discover it, its only a tiny part of the dish. I find it very silly.
Me: Thank you very much Antonio for your time. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Australia and congratulations on your new book.
Antonio : Thank you. Pleasure.
It was an absolute pleasure and honor to know more about the man himself, the most was about his sense of humor. I can feel that he is very passionate in what he does, and when I asked if he was retiring any soon, he replied that retiring was not in his vocabulary at all. Antonio is a man that deserves very much respect and praise. I look forward to seeing him again and all the best to you Antonio. Thank you to Antonio’s PA as well, Anna-Louise for organizing the interview.
Get a signed copy if you are in the UK from any Carluccio’s Restaurants. Locations can be found on the Carluccio’s Restaurant webpage.
Antonio has other cookbooks available in stores as well, log on to http://www.antonio-carluccio.com/Books for more book details.
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