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food and drink

Top Italian TV chef explains why simple Italian food is finally catching on... By Diana Pilkington

Like chalk &cheese

With a TV show on our screens and a new cookbook on the shelves, Antonio Carluccio explains why he can’t get enough of Italian cooking and why, at the age of 75, life is good.

Antonio Carluccio is not such a greedy Italian these days. Although still portly, the avuncular chef has shed more than three stone in recent years, and puts it down to only eating half of what’s on his plate. “It’s not about the diet, it’s attitude,” he says, carefully slicing through a rasher of bacon but only occasionally taking a mouthful. “When you reduce the volume of your stomach and eat less, your stomach doesn’t need more, and you’re happy.”

Above: Simple creation from Antonio Carluccio

A fan of any cuisine that’s cooked simply, authentically and with good ingredients, Carluccio is, of course, a long-time advocate of the food from his native Italy. After more than 35 years in Britain, the stationmaster’s son still speaks with a strong Italian accent, and his conversation is sprinkled with anecdotes about the old country. His phone, for example, has a ringtone of bells from the cows coming down the mountain for the twice-yearly “transumanza”, reminding him of growing up in Piedmont in northern Italy. “I like to live here in London and go to Italy several times a year, so I don’t feel withdrawal symptoms,” he says.

Below: Imaginative creation from award winning local chef David Wykes

So it was with great pleasure that he returned there with old friend and fellow chef Gennaro Contaldo, to explore the regional varieties in the cuisine for the second series of their Two Greedy Italians show and accompanying book. “It’s unbelievably varied,” he says. “A Sicilian doesn’t know the food of the north. Every region likes to cook their own recipes made with locally grown ingredients according to a long history of food. “And all the regions have influences coming from the states around it. For example, in the north you have Germanic influences. And in Sicily the influences are the Arab countries. “Every region has something special.”

He is pleased British people are finally starting to rectify the mistakes of “Britalian” cuisine - spaghetti bolognese, a dish that never existed in Italy, is one of his bugbears - and appreciate real Italian cooking. “Now the British like Italian food. They like it because of its simplicity - very simple flavouring without complicating the recipe. With just two or three items you have a wonderful taste.”

Simplicity is part of the ethos at Carluccio’s, the chain of restaurants that bears his name. Although he sold his stake in 2005, he continues to work as a consultant. For now, he’s happiest throwing himself into work and despite being 75, Carluccio has no plans to retire any time soon. “The type of job and work I do is not for retiring. Because you will always eat even when you are very, very old.

Meanwhile an English chef explains why imaginative British cooking is leading the way...

Local Head Chef David Wykes talks passionately to Life Begins about his imaginative contemporary cuisine and the importance of doing your homework. Last year his restaurant ‘Verveine’ was named Hampshire’s ‘Restaurant of the Year’, whilst he personally took the ‘Best Chef’ award by Hampshire Life Readers.

David and his team have taken critics by storm since establishing themselves in 2010. Their exciting ‘fishmarket’ restaurant boasts its very own on site fishmonger, as well as a menu that unites classic dishes and modern innovation. “We’re not a simple restaurant” effuses the chef, “I like to take it to another level, to introduce a talking point, an extra sensory experience – I’m looking for an incredible moment.” A good example would be his Solent crab dish, which arrives in its shell surrounded by real pebbles. The sound of the pebbles against the plate, and the image of the crab returned to a shell (sanded down and cleaned), inform our brain that we are at the beach. It is an experience that encourages an awareness of the flavours on the plate, and stimulates the imagination.

An avid reader of cookbooks from any era, and extensively trained in Michelin star kitchens across the continent, he also maintains a sense of pride in British heritage “In the Victorian era, we were a leading force in food culture, attempting magnificent things. It is something that quickly gets forgotten. The French pass their success

26 Life Begins

and food knowledge down so well, I believe it’s also important that we look at our own history.” Wonderfully eloquent for a man who claims he’s rubbish at interviews, once David gets talking, its difficult not to want glean everything you can from him. There is a fervour about his musings, a strong feeling of living in the present, underpinned by a sublime knowledge and respect for the history of his trade. However, he doesn’t believe good cooking is necessarily exclusive, “Of course anyone can cook. People say its art, its not. Its hard graft. I didn’t leave school an artist, I left school willing to work for eighty hours a week, sometimes for free.”

With the weight of these experiences behind him the Chef explains what a delight it is to be able to create, challenge and explore new recipes at Verveine. It feels almost like he’s a culinary version of Willy Wonka with his imaginative concoctions of edible delights: “I love every single thing that I do. Its not about one dish or ingredient for me, its about the journey. Finding those obvious and secret combinations. This year we’ve a got an Italian meringue with ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ in the recipe! It really works.” Still as determined and playful as ever, 2012 promises to be as bright and as brilliant for this well deserving chef and his hard working, close- knit team.

Reporter: Gareth Wilson

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