Interview with Gennaro Contaldo

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Describe yourself in 5 words…

Italian, passionate, extrovert, loud, temperamental

What inspires you?

Seeing the younger generation of chefs doing well.  I am especially proud of Jamie (Oliver) and all he has achieved – I remember him so well when he was fresh out of catering college and came to me for a job in the kitchen – I taught him all I knew about Italian cooking because he was just so passionate and enthusiastic.   Once he learned from me, now I learn from him.  To me, this is inspiration and makes all the hard work worth it.

What is your background?

I was born and brought up on the idyllic Amalfi Coast where I lived in the small village of Minori.   My father was a linen dealer and my mum ran a shop.  School didn’t play a big part in my life and I preferred to spend time fishing, hunting and foraging.  In my late teens, the bright lights of London beckoned and I made it my home.  In the ‘80’s I met Antonio Carluccio and worked at his Neal Street Restaurant before opening up my own restaurant, Passione, in central London.

What are the highlights of your career thus far?

Running my own restaurant, filming and writing books – to see my recipes in beautiful books gives me so much joy.

Who taught you to cook?

Food was all around me whilst I was growing up and everyone I knew cooked so it was second nature to me.  My father taught me to hunt game, my mother taught me to recognise mushrooms & herbs and I often escaped to fish with the local fishermen. 

What is your best tip for those who want to learn to cook?

Don’t be afraid, experiment with different ingredients & combinations; if something doesn’t work out first time, try again and above all enjoy!

What are the top three things to consider while cooking Italian food?

Seasonal produce, few ingredients and simplicity

What has been the most exciting collaboration you’ve worked on so far?

I love everything I do, but travelling around Italy with Antonio Carluccio to film Two Greedy Italians was fun, exciting and of course, delicious!  It was lovely to spend time with my old friend and revisit our beloved Italy together and show it off to our audiences.    

What are you working on at the moment?

Someone once called me “mille mestieri” (1000 jobs) and they were not wrong – I always have a lot on  – I still put on my chef whites daily and get stuck in in the kitchens of Jamie’s Italian restaurants.  I have just teamed up with Bertolli with Butter to help the UK show pasta some passion!  We’re reinvigorating mid- week meals, and I want to show how simple pasta dishes can be easily created….cooking authentic Italian shouldn’t be intimidating! I am also working on a new cook book about baking, doing lots of videos for Food Tube.

What do you have to say to the next generation, particularly for those hoping to follow in your footsteps?

The hours are long, the stress can be high, but hard work, determination and a passion for creating good food pays off  –  there is nothing more satisfying than customers returning to your restaurant to enjoy your food.   

Your approach focuses on seasonal ingredients, local ingredients, quality of produce, simplicity. Would you say that your approach is definitively Italian?

This is definitely the Italian way – but I think this is changing in the UK too – there is much more emphasis on good, seasonal and local ingredients to make simple dishes that are healthy and enjoyed by all.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Go for it!

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