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One happy Italian
7:00am Saturday 12th May 2012 in Lifestyle
With a TV show on our screens and a new cookbook on the shelves, Antonio Carluccio explains why he can't get enough of Italian cooking and why, at the age of 75, life is good.
By Diana Pilkington.
Antonio Carluccio is not such a greedy Italian these days. Although still portly, the avuncular chef has shed more than three stone in recent years, and puts it down to only eating half of what's on his plate.
"It's not about the diet, it's attitude," he says, carefully slicing through a rasher of bacon but only occasionally taking a mouthful.
"When you reduce the volume of your stomach and eat less, your stomach doesn't need more, and you're happy."
He points to two remaining hash browns on his plate, and smiles: "I will eat one more of these. But that's just greediness."
A fan of any cuisine that's cooked simply, authentically and with good ingredients, Carluccio is, of course, a long-time advocate of the food from his native Italy.
After more than 35 years in Britain, the stationmaster's son still speaks with a strong Italian accent, and his conversation is sprinkled with anecdotes about the old country.
His phone, for example, has a ringtone of bells from the cows coming down the mountain for the twice-yearly "transumanza", reminding him of growing up in Piedmont in northern Italy.
"I like to live here in London and go to Italy several times a year, so I don't feel withdrawal symptoms," he says.
So it was with great pleasure that he returned there with old friend and fellow chef Gennaro Contaldo, to explore the regional varieties in the cuisine for the second series of their Two Greedy Italians show and accompanying book.
"It's unbelievably varied," he says. "A Sicilian doesn't know the food of the north. Every region likes to cook their own recipes made with locally grown ingredients according to a long history of food.
"And all the regions have influences coming from the states around it. For example, in the north you have Germanic influences. And in Sicily the influences are the Arab countries.
"Every region has something special."
He is pleased British people are finally starting to rectify the mistakes of "Britalian" cuisine - spaghetti bolognese, a dish that never existed in Italy, is one of his bugbears - and appreciate real Italian cooking.
"Now the British like Italian food. They like it because of its simplicity - very simple flavouring without complicating the recipe. With just two or three items you have a wonderful taste."
Simplicity is part of the ethos at Carluccio's, the chain of restaurants that bears his name.
Although he sold his stake in 2005, he continues to work as a consultant, making sure the food still tastes as he envisaged.
He recently reached the milestone of his 75th birthday and insists life is treating him "very well", which paints a very different picture from four years ago.
In 2008 he checked himself into the Priory clinic after injuring himself with a knife, an incident he has since referred to as "an accident".
His stint in the clinic came amid the breakdown of his third marriage, to Priscilla Conran, and after he was forced to close his Neal Street restaurant in Covent Garden.
He is matter-of-fact about that period of his life now, saying: "I came out of it and I'm fine now. More than fine.
And adds: "I would suggest to anybody that has funny ideas to do something about it because it's possible. I'm not the only one or the last one to use medicine to cure the mind."
For now, he's happiest throwing himself into work and despite being 75, Carluccio has no plans to retire any time soon.
"The type of job and work I do is not for retiring. Because you will always eat even when you are very, very old. Perhaps then I'll suggest dishes to elderly people. But it's not the time yet.
"Because I have a passion for food, for me it's not something I have to do. I do it because I want to do it and it's fun."