x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Antonio Carluccio in Dubai talking about his life and times

We talk to the chef Antonio Carlccio about his autobiography. A Recipe for Life, how he lost weight and why he loves Italian food.

The chef and author Antonio Carluccio at his restaurant in The Dubai Mall. Jeff Topping / The National
The chef and author Antonio Carluccio at his restaurant in The Dubai Mall. Jeff Topping / The National

The chef, restaurateur and MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris recently oversaw a series of dinners at Atlantis, The Palm; Gary Rhodes has been out and about at various events in recent weeks; and later on this month, Pierre Gagnaire will be dropping into his Dubai restaurant Reflets to check that all is well. It can only mean one thing: the foodie season is well and truly under way.

The latest celebrity chef to wing his way UAE-wards is Antonio Carluccio, the television chef and cookery writer who played an integral role in developing the hugely successful restaurant/deli chain Carluccio’s, for which he now acts as a consultant.

Sitting outside on the terrace at Carluccio’s in The Dubai Mall, during a visit to promote his autobiography A Recipe for Life, the 75-year-old was on good form. The moment I joined him, he insisted I sample the chilled melon soup in front of him – garnished with slivers of bresaola, a combination he dreamt up earlier that day – and he remained genial and talkative throughout.

What made you decide to write an autobiography?

I was curious to see who I am. When you look back over all those years, you see a pattern emerging – the good and the bad. I thought it would be useful to go back over events, to gather together my memories, think about the decisions I made and why they seemed right at the time. I did it for me.

How did the process compare with producing a cookbook?

Oh, it’s much more difficult; far more emotional. I spent almost three years collecting my memories, sorting them chronologically and asking others around me to do the same. It was hard. Not all those memories were good ones, but it forced me to analyse my life and it means that I won’t repeat my mistakes. I wrote everything down longhand, in pencil. No computers for me; I don’t like computers.

How would you describe the way you cook?

In 50 years it has never changed; my style has always been about simple cooking, with quality ingredients. I call it MFMF, which means minimum fuss, maximum flavour. Jamie Oliver worked as an apprentice under me at Neal Street Restaurant and his cooking is based on what he learnt there.

Ingredients are there to be treated nicely. For me, fine-dining Italian doesn’t really exist; the chefs are too fussy. Someone recently gave me an oyster covered in chocolate – I don’t want to eat that.

What sort of food do you like to eat?

I like authentic dishes, cooked to perfection. It doesn’t matter which cuisine, as long as its cooked well. I am allergic to bad food.

Italian food is simple, but it has variety; that’s why it is popular all over the world. I still love to cook and experiment, but I think that food should have value for the body, it should be full of goodness. I like garlic, ceps, olive oil. Tomatoes are lovely – the base of so many dishes. I love basil the most; when I die, I am organising to be buried on a bed of basil.

What does the future hold?

There was a time when I didn’t think I’d live to see the year 2000 and now it is 12 years on. I’ve lost weight – by halving everything I ate – and I feel much more healthy now. My muse is 101 years old and she calls me her toy boy. There is a lot to live for!

I never thought that at my age I’d be doing what I do, but there’s a lot in the pipeline: consultancies, books, restaurants, it gives me the impression that I’m still valuable, which is very nice.

Antonio Carluccio’s autobiography A Recipe for Life is on sale now in bookshops across the UAE and at Carluccio’s in The Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina Mall and Mirdif City Centre.

eshardlow@thenational.ae