Antonio Carluccio: 'I like those things the British don't eat, such as chicken feet'


My earliest food memory... It is the wonderful latte from my mother's teat! But also it is of the fantastic dishes that my mother prepared in the wartime out of nothing. For example, pasta e patate, which is just pasta and potatoes, with a bit of lard and a bit of celery. It was very starchy, but it was heaven.

Store-cupboard essentials... Olive oil, obviously, some different types of pasta, some tins of ripe tomatoes – these days you can get really wonderful ones – and pecorino cheese. One of my favourite store-cupboard dishes is spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli. You can have it as a midnight feast; it takes five or six minutes, and it's fantastic.

Top cookbook... La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiare Bene [Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well] by Pellegrino Artusi. Artusi wrote it in the 19th century, and it was the first book to highlight all of Italy's wonderful regional specialities. That's why I like it, because, in a sense, "Italian food" doesn't exist – it only exists by regions.

The kitchen appliance i can't live without... A very sharp, beautiful knife is a must, but basically I like very down-to-earth stuff.

Culinary tip... Don't tart things up too much. I've just finished filming a TV series, and I went to some restaurants where they do unbelievable things to classic regional dishes, adding ingredients where they don't belong because they think the recipes are too humble. In Turin, there was even a fusion restaurant trying to make risotto with all sorts of Eastern herbs, cooked in miso liquid instead of wonderful stock. Risotto is risotto – you can't change it and if you do, you should call it something else.

Favourite food shop... It's a little bit difficult to say, because I don't go shopping too much. As for markets, I think the farmers' markets here have fallen flat – they lack originality, and sometimes they even sell imported food. My favourite markets are the ones in Italy – like the one in Turin, which is a big, big market, but also has special little corners where there are sweet old ladies selling stuff that comes from their back garden, such as bunches of herbs and walnuts.

My top table... I have two London restaurants I visit regularly: La Famiglia on Langton Street in Chelsea, which I have been going to for 30 to 40 years because the owner is a good friend – it is very homely, and I am always treated as a fantastic guest. The other is New World off Shaftesbury Avenue – fantastic dim sum. I particularly like all those things the British don't eat, such as chicken feet.

Dream dining companion... The man I always had in mind was Peter Ustinov. He had a great wit and a great knowledge of languages and he seemed to have another dimension as a man.

Guilty pleasure... A tube of condensed milk. I usually have one in the car – you can squeeze it into your mouth. It reminds me of my childhood – I may be 73, but I am still a child.

The strangest thing i've eaten... Putrefied shark – it's an Icelandic speciality; they put it in sand and let it rot for a month, then fillet it and eat slivers of that. It is traditionally accompanied by schnapps, which I think is so they can forget it – it is re-vol-ting.

Pet hates... Usually I don't like food that is highlighted as very special. Japanese matsutake mushrooms, for example – they cost £500 a kilo and people make a big song and dance about them, but they are one of the least flavoursome mushrooms in my opinion. Truffles are my preference, obviously – in fact, I'd like to be buried with them.

Tipple of choice... I like very good whisky. I am a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky society and they send me lots of fantastic stuff straight from the barrel.

Antonio Carluccio is a chef, restaurateur and food writer (antonio-carluccio.com)

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