Italian celebrity chef Antonio Carluccio dead at 80

Britain's Prince Charles (right) greeting renowned local chef Antonio Carluccio as he tours the restored historical State Buildings in Perth on Nov 15, 2015.
Britain's Prince Charles (right) greeting renowned local chef Antonio Carluccio as he tours the restored historical State Buildings in Perth on Nov 15, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Italian celebrity chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio died on Wednesday (Nov 8) aged 80, his website said.

The London-based Carluccio was known for his namesake restaurant chain, books that got Britain switched on to Italian food and his nurturing of the chef Jamie Oliver.

"It is with great sadness that we announce that Commendatore Antonio Carluccio OBE sadly passed away this morning," his website said.

The son of a station master, he grew up in the countryside in Italy's northwestern Piedmont region.

He briefly worked as a journalist for La Stampa newspaper in Turin before moving to Vienna when he was 21 to study languages.

Carluccio started out as an importer of Italian wine, in Germany from 1962 and London from 1975, before switching to restaurants.

He opened the Neal Street Restaurant in central London in 1981, whose customers included Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and pop star Elton John.

The restaurant, which ran for 26 years, launched the career of Oliver, who started out there as a pastry chef.

Oliver, 42, said he heard the news with “great sadness”.  He shared a picture on Instagram of an “inspirational” Carluccio cook book which first got him “hooked on pasta” and drove him to work for the Italian master. 

“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,” Oliver said. 

“He was an amazing food ambassador that will be sorely missed.  “Cook a feast up there, mate.” . 

Overcame depression 

The Italian chef co-founded the British high street restaurant chain Carluccio's in 1999, which also has outlets in the Middle East.

He wrote more than 20 books about cookery, largely on Italian food, and on mushrooms - a lifelong passion which began with his childhood foraging in rural Piedmont.

His motto was "MOF MOF": minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour.

In his autobiography he revealed he had a history of depression stemming from his brother's death in 1960. He stabbed himself in the chest in 2008 in a suicide attempt.

He was made a commendatore, the equivalent of a knighthood, in 1998 for services to his homeland.

In 2007, Queen Elizabeth II made him an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the UK catering industry.

"We are incredibly saddened by the news that Antonio Carluccio, our founder, passed away on Wednesday," his restaurant chain said.

"It isn't just Antonio's name above our doors, but his heart and soul lives and breathes throughout our restaurants," it added.

"Antonio has been a huge inspiration to many of us and his energy, zest for life and sense of humour will be greatly missed."