Around Italy with a saucepan

FOR HIS LAT­EST PROJECT, CHEF GINO D’ACAMPO HAS GONE HOME, EX­PLOR­ING THE CULI­NARY WON­DERS OF ITALY’S WEST COAST. HE TALKS TO RUS­SELL LEADBETTER ABOUT THE DE­LIGHTS HE DIS­COV­ERED ALONG THE WAY

Sunday Herald Life - - TRAVEL FEATURE -

GINO D’Acampo re­cently tweeted a nice pho­to­graph of him­self with one of his young chil­dren. “Back at home in Sar­dinia for a week, noth­ing bet­ter than re­lax­ing and get­ting kisses from my lit­tle an­gel,” he wrote to his 1.75 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

It was hard not to envy him his time spent re­lax­ing un­der the Ital­ian sun but at least you have to recog­nise that he has worked hard for his right to a fam­ily break.

D’Acampo, 41, has just pub­lished his lat­est book, Gino’s Ital­ian Coastal Es­cape, and his lat­est ITV se­ries, a spin-off from the book, con­tin­ues on Wed­nes­day evening. Not only has he de­vel­oped a suc­cess­ful chain of restau­rants (he says he has al­ready scouted “one or two pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions” in Scot­land) but he is res­i­dent chef on ITV’s This Morn­ing, and his Ital­ian Es­cape book ti­tles have sold more than 300,000 copies.

D’Acampo was born in Naples, into a large fam­ily. As he has ex­plained, the food they ate was rather tra­di­tional: the recipes tended to­wards the sim­ple yet nu­tri­tious, based on fruit, veg­eta­bles, meat and fish. He has said that his grand­fa­ther Ciro, who had a restau­rant, al­ways in­sisted that a good recipe didn’t need many in­gre­di­ents, “be­cause if the in­gre­di­ents are good qual­ity and full of flavour, why do you have to cover up or change their taste?”.

Ciro seems to have played a key role in the young Gino’s pas­sion for food. “My grand­fa­ther was a re­spected pro­fes­sional chef and a great in­spi­ra­tion for me,” he says. “My ad­mi­ra­tion for him cer­tainly played a large part in my choice of ca­reer.” And his very ear­li­est food-re­lated me­mory, in the fam­ily kitchen or around the ta­ble, re­lates to Ciro again: “My ear­li­est me­mory was see­ing him rolling gnoc­chi. He was very skil­ful and I could watch him for ages.”

What were his favourite foods when he was grow­ing up? “It won’t sur­prise you to learn that I’ve al­ways loved pasta but, hav­ing grown up on the coast, where fresh fish and seafood is so plen­ti­ful, I can’t re­mem­ber a time when I’ve not ab­so­lutely loved those flavours.”

D’Acampo was just 11 when he walked into Ciro’s restau­rant and de­cided that cook­ing was for him. “The only other ca­reers I con­sid­ered were medicine and den­tistry ... some­thing where I could wear a white coat, ba­si­cally,” he says. “But I found that you have to study re­ally hard to be a suc­cess in those pro­fes­sions and, as a chef also gets to wear a white jacket, I de­cided to fol­low in my grand­fa­ther’s foot­steps in­stead.”

Af­ter train­ing at the Luigi de Medici Cater­ing Col­lege, he ar­rived in London aged 19, to work at The Or­chard Restau­rant in Hamp­stead and then at the Cam­bio restau­rant in Sur­rey. He worked with Tesco on its Finest range and this paved the way for his TV de­but, on Great Food Live on UKTV Food.

He has gen­uinely warm mem­o­ries of the trav­els he made and the meals he tried while re­search­ing his Ital­ian Coastal Es­cape book. He jour­neyed up the coun­try’s west coast, vis­it­ing the Ae­o­lian Is­lands, Cal­abria, Cam­pa­nia, Capri, Lazio, Tus­cany and Elba. “It was an amaz­ing trip in so many ways,” he writes in the in­tro­duc­tion, “and I was re­minded once again of the beauty of the Ital­ian coast­line, the in­cred­i­ble qual­ity of the in­gre­di­ents, and how pas­sion­ate the lo­cals are about their food, es­pe­cially their re­gional sen­si­bil­i­ties.” A few sam­ple dishes will suf­fice here: beef carpac­cio with horse­rad­ish and parme­san cream sauce; roasted kid with gar­lic new pota­toes; sweet and sour rab­bit with boret­tane onions.

Asked if there was any­thing that was new to him, and whether there was one meal that blew him away, D’Acampo says: “Some­times, things that we might find new or in­no­va­tive are ac­tu­ally tra­di­tional and cen­turies-old; it’s just that we haven’t dis­cov­ered them yet. I think this hap­pens a lot in the world of food. For in­stance, I’d never tried pizza made from chick­pea flour, but I had that ex­pe­ri­ence on the is­land of Elba. De­li­cious! I’ll cer­tainly be look­ing for­ward to the next time.”

Asked which meals he would urge, say, Scot­tish vis­i­tors to Italy to sam­ple, his re­sponse is un­equiv­o­cal. “All of them! I think ev­ery one of them is amaz­ing and I def­i­nitely had the Scots palate in mind as I cre­ated my own ver­sions.”

In his book he ex­presses sur­prise that

rel­a­tively few tourists take the time to visit Cal­abria. He is con­vinced we are miss­ing out on so much. It’s a beau­ti­ful re­gion, he says, a nat­u­ral par­adise. “The area is mostly un­spoilt by tourism and there are nearly 500 miles of coast­line to ex­plore. The food is amaz­ing and is strongly in­flu­enced by Ara­bic cui­sine. They like things spicy and use a lot of peper­on­cino to add flavour and heat. I love nduja – a spicy spread­able sausage – which the Cal­abri­ans spread on toast or add to seafood dishes.”

D’Acampo and his wife Jes­sica have three chil­dren – Lu­ciano, Rocco and Mia. The jug­gling act can be hard at times, though: he says that when he is work­ing, he goes “flat out” and is con­stantly on the move, trav­el­ling all over the coun­try. He makes up for it, he adds, by tak­ing long fam­ily hol­i­days.

He touches, good-na­turedly, on his food weak­nesses – “Most Ital­ians have a lik­ing for Nutella and I’m no ex­cep­tion. Kin­der Eggs are also a def­i­nite weak­ness” – and says that, as with many chefs who are con­stantly ex­posed to food, and food prepa­ra­tion, that some­times all he re­ally wants is eggs on toast.

D’Acampo’s web­site lists his restau­rant em­pire: branches of My Pasta Bar, in cen­tral London; the full-ser­vice Gino D’Acampo – My Restau­rant, in London, Manch­ester and Leeds, with oth­ers due to open south of the Bor­der. Can he ever see him­self com­ing to Scot­land and fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of many other Ital­ians who have made a suc­cess up here? Ab­so­lutely, he af­firms. “I love com­ing to Scot­land and I have al­ready taken a look at one or two pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions.” Watch this space, as they say. Any­thing else on his mind, we ask? “One thing to re­mem­ber,” he ad­vises. “When you say the word ‘gnoc­chi’, it rhymes with ‘hockey’. On no ac­count pro­nounce it ‘gn-och-aye’.”

Gino’s Ital­ian Coastal Es­cape, Hod­der & Stoughton, £20. Gino’s Ital­ian Coastal Es­cape con­tin­ues on STV this Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 8, at 8pm. www. gin­oda­campo.com

The beauty of Tus­cany – apart from the land­scape – is the rus­tic, hearty food that uses only the fresh­est in­gre­di­ents. Pho­to­graph: Rex/Shutterstock

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