Gino D’Acampo: ‘I’ve worked with female chefs that make Gordon Ramsay look like a p****’

After touring the kitchens of Italy’s nonnas, the chef’s new book is all about ‘celebrating and saying thank you’ to the women in his life – and why he thinks they should rule the world

Katie Wright
Wednesday 02 November 2022 06:30 GMT
Growing up, D’Acampo ‘was always the only boy amongst a group of women’
Growing up, D’Acampo ‘was always the only boy amongst a group of women’ (Haarala Hamilton/PA)

Growing up in the town of Torre del Greco just outside Naples, Gino D’Acampo wasn’t like other children.

“All my other cousins, the boys, they were playing football, they were going on their bikes – I was never that kind of kid,” the celebrity chef and restauranteur says on phone from the home in Sardinia where he spends six months of each year.

“I was always kind of sit down in the kitchen, help [the adults] out, peeling potatoes, understand about the pasta,” he continues, his accent instantly recognisable. “I was always the only boy amongst a group of women.”

While his late mother Alba began working as a nurse aged 18, her eight sisters stayed at home, meaning the young D’Acampo was schooled in the art of cucina povera (”poor kitchen” – traditional recipes passed down in frugal households) by his many aunts.

Not that they were a close-knit bunch, however.

“It was the opposite,” says the 46-year-old, who shares sons Luciano, 20, Rocco, 16, and daughter Mia, 10, with wife Jessica. “We were about 68 or 69 cousins in total, so you can imagine there is nothing close about my family.”

Now, with his latest cookbook – Gino’s Italy: Like Mamma Used to Make – and accompanying TV series, the Neapolitan native is paying tribute to his beloved relatives. “The idea of the book is to celebrate and say thank you to all the women in my life, especially my family. They’ve been a big part of the reason why I am the person I am today,” he says.

That’s why you’ll find recipes such as Aunty Lina’s pasta Genovese (thick tubes of pasta smothered with a rich, meaty sauce) and Aunty Rita’s baby octopus with mussels and cherry tomatoes, alongside dishes D’Acampo discovered while cooking with families across Italy.

D’Acampo with two of his aunts (PA)

Crisscrossing the country from Naples to Tuscany, he was invited into the kitchens of mammas and nonnas who generously shared their perfectly honed recipes passed down through the generations.

While his female-centric early years made a huge impression on D’Acampo, it was actually his grandfather, a professional chef, who inspired him to enrol in catering college at the age of 15.

“I remember one day he made gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil,” he recalls of his earliest food memory. “[He started with] some potatoes, a bit of flour, eggs, and all of a sudden he made this magnificent dish. That was the moment I considered my grandfather a proper artist and hero.”

Moving to the UK five years later, the fledgling chef worked in a number of London restaurants before being convicted of burgling the home of pop star Paul Young, and being sentenced to two years in prison.

Determined to succeed in the culinary world following his jail stint, D’Acampo started making TV appearances in the early Noughties, eventually becoming a household name thanks to regular slots on This Morning, fronting his own series, and winning I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in 2009.

A lot has changed since the straight-talking chef – now the owner of 11 restaurants, he says, with four more opening by next summer – spent days slaving over a stove in the male-dominated kitchens of the capital.

“I have to say, I’ve seen female chefs that scare me more than a male chef,” he says. “I’ve dealt with female chefs that make Gordon Ramsay look like a p***y, to tell you the truth.”

And he’s all in favour of more women rising to the top in every profession: “We should have more women who control countries, [then] we will have less wars around the world. We should have more female chefs, we should be surrounded by more women – I really strongly believe that.

“When [women] confront someone, they are not looking for a fight, they are looking for a solution. Men are different – we are always looking [at] who has got the biggest penis. Sorry to say that vulgarly, I don’t know how to explain it.”

Indeed, D’Acampo was happy to see a woman reside in 10 Downing Street, albeit briefly.

“I was so excited for a female Prime Minister,” he says, speaking a few days after Liz Truss won the Conservative leadership race. “There are things that women do that men can never do – it’s as simple as that. It’s a different touch.”

Now back in the UK after his extended Sardinian summer, D’Acampo will soon be jetting off with pals Gordon Ramsay and Fred Sirieix to shoot the next instalment of their popular Road Trip series.

D’Acampo learned a lot about Italian cuisine from his aunts (PA)

“You only watch 50 per cent of the fun,” says D’Acampo of the show, suggesting that if viewers ever got to witness the unaired footage the consequences would be dire.

“First of all, I think we wouldn’t have jobs anymore. Second of all, I think all our wives will leave us!”

Does he ever worry, in the era of cancel culture, that his candid quips or on-screen antics could land him in hot water?

“I’m going to be extremely honest with you – I don’t really care,” he deadpans. “If I care what other people think I’m gonna waste too much time.”

He concludes: “If you’re a nice person, you shouldn’t really care about what you’re going to say because you’re never going to hurt anyone. I think only malicious, bad people have to worry about stuff like that.”

‘Gino’s Italy: Like Mamma Used to Make’ By Gino D’Acampo (published by Bloomsbury, £25; photography by Haarala Hamilton).

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