Antonio Carluccio, the “godfather” of modern Italian cooking, has died aged 80.
Carluccio, who founded the restaurant group Carluccio’s in 1999, and owned restaurants in Britain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, was well-known for his love of classic Italian dishes, cooked simply and lovingly, with the freshest ingredients available (in particular, mushrooms, for which Carluccio had a strong and abiding love). Over his long career in food, Carluccio published 22 cookbooks.
He was well-known for his long-standing friendship with fellow chef Gennaro Contaldo, with whom he made the popular TV series, Two Greedy Italians.
After a brief stint working as a journalist in Turin, Italy (where he was born and raised), Carluccio set out for London to make a living in the world of food. In 1981, he came to prominence as the head chef at Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, where he cooked for the likes of Princes Charles and Elton John, and hired a then-unknown chef called Jamie Oliver.
Oliver has expressed his grief at Carluccio’s passing on Instagram, saying, “With great sadness I’ve heard that Antonio Carluccio passed away this morning. He was my first London boss at the Neal Street restaurant 25 years ago which was an institution and Mecca of wild mushrooms where I had the pleasure of working for him. He was such a charismatic charming don of all things Italian!! Always hanging out the front door of the restaurant with a big fat cigar, a glass of something splendid and his amazing fuzzy white hair. The imagine [sic] here is from his great cookbook that first got me hooked on pasta which I found so very inspirational and drove me to work for him. I also had the pleasure of making and producing his TV show the Two Greedy Italians with his life-long best friend and partner in crime @gennarocontaldo, who were hilarious together!! He was an amazing food ambassador that will be sorely missed. My love goes out to his partner Sabina, his family and his dear and close friends on this very sad day. Cook a feast up there mate.”
But perhaps it was journalist James Steen who was able to honour Carluccio best, by tweeting an image of an interview he’d done with the chef a few years ago. In the interview, Steen asks Carluccio what he’d like his final meal to be, and the answer (of course) is so fittingly him.
“Well now, let me think. I’d like it to be set in the middle of the Italian countryside, beneath a pergola. I will begin the meal with spaghettini with cherry tomatoes and basil. Very simple.
“For the main course, I’d like a ragout of offal - lung and all the other bits and pieces - served with rice.
“And then for dessert, I’d step away from the pergola and pick a white peach. One peach picked directly from the tree. Then I would bite into it and - whoosh! - the taste would take me straight back to my childhood.”
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