Gennaro Contaldo

Gennaro ContaldoKim Lightbody

You might know Gennaro Contaldo as one of half of Two Greedy Italians, the television show he worked on with the late Antonio Carluccio. More likely than not, however, you know him as Jamie Oliver’s mentor – the man who taught The Naked Chef everything there is to know about Italian cuisine.

In the 70’s, he moved to London, where he teamed up with Carluccio and worked to improve Italian cuisine in the UK. Gennaro’s restaurant Passione was awarded the title ‘Best Italian Restaurant’ in 2005.

We were lucky enough to interview the master of pasta at a recent masterclass at Jamie’s Italian in Dundrum Town Centre, so read on to find out more about the man that inspired The Naked Chef…

Gennaro Contaldo, photo credit: Kim Lightbody

Gennaro Contaldo, photo credit: Kim Lightbody

Your latest book, Fast Cook Italian, features recipes that can be made in less than 40 minutes. Is it important to you to make people aware that they can make great food in a short amount of time?

“Oh yes! We try each recipe again and again and then we give it to other people to try to make sure the timing is right. To make a book takes two years, I can’t just write it up as I have to make sure everything is right. Most of the recipes are taken from the classics and some of them were really long, so we had to adjust it to make sure that when very busy people go home they can make it using just a few ingredients. In each recipe, you’ll find a lot of simplicity but also a lot of flavour. Remember, you have to put your heart inside every single dish and express yourself through it. When you cook one of the recipes for the first time, you do it how it is in the book, but the next time maybe you want to change something and you shouldn’t be afraid of that because that is what food is all about! It’s about the love. You should also make sure you always have someone to cook with you so you can share the experience.

People all over the world should know how to cook good food quickly. The ingredients that Jamie and I cook with, you can find them everywhere and if you follow the recipe, you won’t find it difficult to create great food. Everything we cook is the perfect marriage of flavour and everything we make has been well thought out. Our recipes have also all been adapted from the classic recipes. For a cook to come out with new ideas isn’t difficult: first you need to make sure you’re happy with the dish, that the flavour is perfect, and then you give it to other people to try out. When you get their feedback, you then make any adjustments to the recipe and then you launch it. When I create a recipe, I don’t usually use too many ingredients – Jamie uses five, but I often only need three!”

When you became Jamie Oliver’s mentor, how did that affect you as a chef? 

“Through my years, I’ve always kept learning and whenever I cook, I’m giving something away, but getting something back by seeing people enjoy my food or be inspired by it. To find someone who said “I really want to learn, I want to be like you, I want to squash your brain to get all the knowledge out” was incredible. It made me look to myself and realise that I have a lot of knowledge and experience. I started working in a kitchen at the age of ten, but it was always in Jamie’s blood because his parents, Trevor and Sally, owned a restaurant and pub. It fed his passions and made him want to see what cooking was really all about. The more you discover, the more excited you get and so on, it’s a cycle.”

How did you get into cooking initially?

“I started in my first kitchen at the age of ten because my father had to go see customers inland along the Amalfi Coast, as we used to have a shop that sold linen, Irish linen in fact! He took me to his friend’s house to see if he would look after me for a little while and they had a restaurant. It was closed on this particular day but they had me helping out to prepare stuff for the next day and I loved it!”

What are you going to cook for Christmas this year? 

“Oh I'm not cooking this Christmas, my wife is. She actually told me that she couldn’t sleep the other night because she was so worried that I would complain about what she cooks for Christmas dinner! She asked me if this year, for once, I would just shut up and not complain, but I’ve never said that her food isn’t good. We are having capon for Christmas lunch and my friend is bringing delicious homemade tortellini filled with different meats. 

What’s in store for you in 2019?

“Oh my god, I have so much planned, but I’m already looking towards 2029! Next year will be full of love and passion for food. I hope to open more restaurants, keep teaching and keep inspiring people too. I also want to grow stronger, because at my age it is very difficult to grow physically stronger. I won’t be lifting any weights but I will lift food and get stronger!”

Do you like coming over to visit Ireland and visiting all the chefs at Jamie’s Italian in Dundrum?

“Oh yes, I love Ireland! When you come to this restaurant, you can see that there is a happiness in the kitchen. It’s a theatre of joy! They don’t stop working for one minute, but they love it. There’s a 21-year old chef working in the kitchen, I was talking to him and he said “Chef, I love it! I love what I’m doing!”. He didn’t want to talk about what he does when he goes home because he really loves what he does! It’s so great to see.”

You can read more about Gennaro on his website. You can also see more from him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

Gennaro's Fast Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo is on sale now, RRP €28.00. Published by Pavilion Books, photography by Kim Lightbody.

Read more: Italian Recipes from Jamie Oliver 

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