Credited by Jamie Oliver as being ‘the man who taught me everything I know’, Gennaro Contaldo is one of the best-loved and well-known faces of the cooking world.
Born and raised in Minori along the Amalfi coast, he rose through the ranks to become one of the most highly respected chefs in London working in some of London’s most popular restaurants. In 1999 he opened his own restaurant ‘passione’ in Charlotte Street, London, which was awarded Best Italian restaurant in 2005. Gennaro is currently involved in the Jamie Oliver restaurant chain, Jamie’s Italian, where he creates the dishes and trains the chefs nationwide and abroad.
His first cookbook, Passione, published by Headline in 2003 won Best Italian Cook Book 2003’, at the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards and was short listed for the André Simon Award. Also published by Headline are Gennaro’s Italian Year, Gennaro’s Home Cooking and Gennaro’s Easy Italian.
In August 2012, Gennaro Let’s Cook Italian, was published by Pavilion and February 2015 saw the release of Gennaro’s Slow Cook Italian.
Despite his busy schedule, we managed to catch Gennaro for an exclusive interview with Make It Shabby. Read on to find out his thoughts on food, family and his beautiful homeland Italy:
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Did you cook as a child?
Food was all around me whilst I was growing up and all my family and friends cooked, so it was so normal for me to watch and as soon as I was able I helped with the cooking. I loved to help my mother make bread and pasta, collect wild herbs for her and go hunting with my father and learn how to clean and cook game.
Did you plan on cooking becoming your career?
I have always cooked for a living in various restaurants in England and Italy. I suppose it was when I opened up my own restaurant, Passione, in London and in a very short time the small, Charlotte Street restaurant, became very popular!
Who or what inspires you?
The cooking of my childhood has always been at the basis of all my dishes, however, it’s great to learn from the younger generation of chefs too!
Do you have any cooking disaster stories that you can laugh about now but didn’t feel very funny at the time?
I was doing a live show on TV once and to test if the egg white was stiff enough, I turned the bowl upside down over my head and guess what – it wasn’t quite done yet and I ended up with egg white all over on my head!!!
What other skills do you have? Is there anything you’d like to try but haven’t done yet?
To relax, I love to whittle walking sticks. I have quite a collection but also give lots away as presents.
Where did the inspiration for the recipes in your new book Gennaro’s Slow Cook Italian come from? Which is your favourite?
I love slow cooking, it’s one of my favourite ways to cook – it’s stress free and the cooker or oven does its job while you can get on with other things in the safe knowledge that you will have a tasty, satisfying dish at the end. The inspiration for most of the recipes come from the cooking of my childhood where my grandparents used to cook in a wood-fired oven and stove and most dishes were slow-cooked. I like all the recipes but to pick my favourites – the Ragu (which my aunt used to slow-cook for at least 12 hours!) and at this time of the year the Leg of lamb with peas and shallots is ideal and I will probably be cooking this dish for Easter lunch.
What we particularly loved about the book is that the recipes are not complicated or exclusive at all. They are simple, hearty, satisfying recipes that anyone can put together but will taste delicious. Is this typical of Italian cooking?
Absolutely – Italian cooking is all about simplicity and a few good, seasonal ingredients.
Do you think basic cooking skills are becoming lost? Are enough children learning the skill?
They are certainly introducing cooking skills in the schools again and that is a good thing – Jamie (Oliver) is always campaigning about getting kids in the kitchen and I think this has helped a lot!
Do you think homemade meals are becoming rarer what with fast food, convenience meals and people’s general attitudes to food? Are too many people viewing food as quick sustenance rather than something to be enjoyed and appreciated? Are too many losing their appreciation of real food?
I certainly used to think that when I first came to England in the early 1970’s – I had never seen convenience food before and was shocked! Over the years and certainly in the last decade, I find people are becoming more aware of what they are eating for health reasons. Unfortunately we do live in an era of quick packaged food and takeaways, but with a little thought and forward planning, homemade meals are so easy to prepare – with slow cooking, it’s ideal as you can prepare in advance and reheat when required. I’m all for campaigning for better food for a better life!
Finally, what are your plans for the future? Are there plans for any more television series or books? What would you like to achieve or try out next?
I hope there will be more TV and books! I am always working on new cooking videos for my Food Tube channel and as Jamie’s Italian expands further, I am busy with training and new openings.
Try Gennaro’s Pollo alla Cacciatora recipe (Hunter’s Chicken) here.
Click here to read our review of Gennaro’s Slow Cook Italian (published by Pavilion) or buy your copy from Amazon now (rrp. £20.00).
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