Antonio Carluccio was Britain's godfather of Italian gastronomy

Italian chef Antonio Carluccio.
Italian chef Antonio Carluccio.PHOTO: ANTONIO CARLUCCIO/TWITTER

LONDON • Antonio Carluccio, the Italian chef and restaurateur considered by many to be the godfather of Italian gastronomy in Britain, died on Wednesday aged 80.

Carluccio, a colourful and well-loved character familiar to British food lovers for his dozens of cookery books and appearances on television, had an extensive career, having catered for the likes of Prince Charles and singer Mick Jagger.

He wrote 22 books and starred in TV programmes including Antonio Carluccio's Italian Feast and Two Greedy Italians, alongside chef Gennaro Contaldo, in which the pair would bicker and tease each other while reminiscing.

Carluccio was one of six children and was brought up in Italy's north-west region. He briefly worked as a journalist in Turin before moving to Vienna and then Germany, and eventually to London to work as a wine merchant.

He opened his first restaurant in Britain in 1981, the Neal Street restaurant in London's Covent Garden, when he was named the runner-up Sunday Times Cook of the Year. The restaurant was patronised by Prince Charles and singer Elton John and launched the career of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver before it closed in 2007.

Oliver paid tribute to the chef on Instagram. He credited Carluccio with getting him "hooked" on pasta and said that his "love goes out to his partner Sabina, his family and his dear and close friends on this very sad day".

Carluccio opened a delicatessen next door to his Neal Street restaurant in 1991, but it was not until 1998 that he started the first Carluccio's Caff, now a common staple of many high streets, offering a range of Italian dishes and wines.

When I came here in 1975, I found the situation a little bleak. There were some stereotypical trattorias delivering... in many cases what I call Britalian food: chicken surprise was a favourite one, where you'd open the chicken breast and a splash of butter would come out... very depressing.

ITALIAN CHEF ANTONIO CARLUCCIO, who moved to London to work as a wine merchant

The Carluccio's chain has continued to expand across Britain and today operates from more than 80 locations. The chef sold his interest in the restaurant chain in 2005, but maintained involvement from a distance.

"When I came here in 1975, I found the situation a little bleak," he told The Guardian in 2009.

"There were some stereotypical trattorias, delivering stereotypical Italian food, and in many cases what I call Britalian food: chicken surprise was a favourite one, where you'd open the chicken breast and a splash of butter would come out, or avocado with aurora sauce, which was mayonnaise and ketchup, very depressing."

British people, he added, "eat an awful lot of wrong pasta".

"An example would be spaghetti bolognese, which doesn't exist in Italy. You wouldn't have bolognese, or a meat sauce, with spaghetti, it would be with tagliatelle."

He was appointed commendatore by the Italian government in 1998 - the equivalent of a British knighthood. In 2007, Queen Elizabeth made him an officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the catering industry.

The chef battled with depression throughout his life and, in 2008, checked himself into the Priory, the west London psychiatric hospital, after an attempt to end his life.

He later spoke about his depression after the closure of his Neal Street flagship restaurant and the breakup of his 28-year marriage to Priscilla, the sister of designer Terence Conran. He had been married three times.

He said his motto was "mof mof" - minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour.

"I've received a lot of letters from old men recently, widowers, wanting to know if they can improve the quality of their life through cooking," he said a few years ago.

"And they can! No matter the budget! Even, say, baked beans, fried in a little oil, with some salt, garlic and chilli, can transform an ordinary meal into something special and can provide you with a sense of purpose, achievement. Hey, I should know."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2017, with the headline 'Antonio Carluccio was Britain's godfather of Italian gastronomy'. Subscribe