Ottimo!* (*'Pukka!') At least, that's what Jamie Oliver hopes

The innovative chef is daring to teach Italians how to cook their own traditional dishes
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The Independent Online

He has brought new lads into the kitchen, turned the jobless into chefs and forced the Government into revamping school dinners. For his next trick, Jamie Oliver is attempting to take the culinary equivalent of coals to Newcastle, by taking pasta to Italy.

The Essex-born and bred TV presenter and innovative chef aims to teach Italians how to cook their own national dishes after selling the rights to his latest book to the country perhaps proudest of its domestic culinary traditions.

But Italian foodies are unconvinced about his chances of success. They say the nation's cooks rarely learn their dishes from books and few would opt to choose a Briton in favour of the traditional learning experience of mamma's kitchen.

Oliver, 31, will publish a translation of Jamie's Italy in the next few months after many years of failing to sell the rights to previous books, despite huge sales in other European countries. Sophie Brewer, rights director for his UK publisher, Penguin, said: "Jamie's Italy is his seventh book and we have been trying to sell him in all that time.

"But now we've finally done the deal. I think the market is changing. They are certainly very excited about publishing him and they will put a big push behind him. It's an incredibly warm and loving tribute to Italy and his enthusiasm is reflected in the book."

Oliver spent several years working alongside the Italian chef, Gennaro Contaldo, whom he regards as his mentor, then found TV fame when he was spotted working in the kitchens of the River Café in London and launched his first TV series, The Naked Chef.

He said: "I should have been bloody Italian. Why oh why was I born in Southend-on-Sea? Since I was a nipper, I've been totally besotted by the love, passion and verve for food, family and life itself that just about all Italian people have and that's what I'm passionate about."

Oliver, who has achieved some fame in Italy through satellite TV screenings of his series, toured the country for his last Channel 4 programme, Jamie's Great Escape.

But many Italian chefs believe he will make little impact on their market. Gino D'Acampo, a presenter of ITV1's Saturday Cooks, said: "Italians don't really learn from books: they learn from their mothers, their grandmothers and their aunties. For an English consumer, it is always fashionable to have the latest cookbook in your kitchen, but my mum hasn't got any cookery books.

"I have great respect for Jamie Oliver but the problem he is going to find is that Italian people are not very open-minded. They think their food is the greatest and they are not going to accept an English guy trying show them how to cook Italian food."

The chef and broadcaster Valentina Harris said: "No one can deny he is successful at what he does, but I think Italians will view this with some amount of bafflement, and perhaps with an indulgent smile.

"He doesn't have an Italian mother, he is not Italian and he doesn't have an Italian background in cooking. Somebody obviously must think his book is sellable if he has a publishing deal, but I'm very surprised."

And Giancarlo Caldesi, who runs the Italian cookery school La Cucina Caldesi, agreed. "There may be interest from a younger, more cosmopolitan group of people, the 18 to 30 age group who are going to different types of restaurants and have begun experimenting ith their food.

"But with the older generations I think he has no chance. The English attitude is to break barriers, add an English twist, but in Italy there is an attitude of, 'Why change something if there is nothing wrong with it?' In Italy, the tradition is to go back to the way your great grandmother and your grandmother cooked."

But Mr Contaldo, who owns London's Passione restaurant, thought Italians would lap him up. He said: "Now Italy will start to eat a little bit better. I have to say, even though he is my protégé, I have never worked with anyone so talented.

"If I didn't believe in Jamie I wouldn't have taken him on. It is now at the stage where he gives me ideas on how to cook. When I eat his food, I get the taste of Italy. I think his book is going to do extremely well."


"Italians don't learn from books: they learn from their mothers"


"Somebody thinks his book is sellable, but I'm very surprised"

Valentina Harris Author of 30 books on Italian cookery

"When I eat his food I get the taste of Italy"

Gennaro Contaldo Owner of Passione Restaurant, London