I’ve got a bit of a crush on Antonio Carluccio. The man may be seventy-five but he’s not without a certain sex appeal. It’s the Italian charm, he may have left his homeland more than half his life ago but it’s still there.
And so is the accent. The melodic lilt coupled with the deep, throaty tone – not unlike a finely tuned sports car (Italian obviously!) is pretty irresistible, and we haven’t even started on his cooking skills yet.
There’s a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he recalls how working his magic in the kitchen helped him work his magic with the ladies.
While living in Vienna as a young man he started missing the food of his childhood and began trying to recreate it. He said: “I saw for myself that friends – and by friends I mean girls – responded well to it.” I don’t ask him to elaborate. He may well have once been something of a bad boy, but now Carluccio is 100 per cent gentleman – he won’t kiss and tell. There’s a real warmth about him, as if the Italian sunshine of his childhood has been absorbed right into his soul, and it’s never more apparent than when he reminisces about his mother. It was she who inspired his love of food.
“Mama was an artist in the kitchen,” he recalls. “I was brought up with all kinds of wonderful food, even though it was war time.
“Papa was a station master and mama used to send me out to find out if the train was on time so that the pasta would be perfectly cooked for when he came home. Mama used to feed the Germans and the partisans because they would come to the house because they heard she was a really good cook.”
There’s not quite the same affection when he speaks about his adopted country’s version of the food of his childhood and to say that Antonio Carluccio is not a fan of spaghetti Bolognese would be something of an understatement.
“Spaghetti Bolognese does not exist,” he says, the Italian accent growing even more pronounced as he grows increasingly animated. “It is a version of a very famous dish that here has been crucified. People here put in garlic, herbs, chillies, but the original is very simple – just meat, vegetables, tomato paste, a bit of wine and that is it. And always with tagliatelle, never spaghetti.
“When I came here 37 years ago I saw many restaurants doing Italian food but I call it Britalian. Now slowly, slowly, the message is getting through.”
Listening to him talk about food there seems to be some truth in the stereotype of the fiery, passionate Italian. It’s not unattractive. If you have any more lessons Carluccio keep talking and I, along with the rest of the female population, will definitely keep listening.