Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Audience with Antonio Carluccio

Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

I’ve always been a big fan of Antonio Carluccio. His enthusiasm for food and the apparent simplicity of his recipes have always appealed to me. His “Vegetables” book is widely used in my kitchen and I’ve been to his Cafés several times and have never had a bad meal or poor service there.

So, when I saw that he was appearing at a local venue to promote his new book, Italia, I booked up and went along.

The theatre was full, which is a testament to his popularity. The evening was fairly informal and consisted of Antonio telling a few tales to the audience, cooking a couple of dishes and then, during the second half, taking some questions.

During the first half of the evening, he introduced us to his book, explaining that he had travelled the twenty different regions of Italy gathering stories and recipes. He started off by cooking Gnocchi di Ricotta con Sugo di Porcini – Ricotta dumplings with porcini sauce. During this task, he was ably assisted by Marco, the chef from the local branch of Carluccio’s Café. As he began to cook, the wonderful smells began to waft over the audience, and I, for one, became very hungry as I would imagine everyone else did.

The next dish he did was La Costoletta del Curato which was a veal dish with pesto. The veal didn’t interest me, but the pesto was made with about a dozen different herbs including Basil, Chervil, Dill, Mint, Chives, Parsley and Tarragon and as they were being crushed in a mortar and pestle they smelled gorgeous.

Then it was the interval where we were able to sample the gnocchi dish prepared, Antonio informed us, by Marco from some 12 kilos of ricotta! It was served in very small cups, but was very nice. I could easily have eaten a whole dish of it. The gnocchi, despite having only ricotta, flour and breadcrumbs was very similar to the potato gnocchi that most of us are used to.

After the break, Antonio answered questions from the audience. This was quite entertaining and we found out how and why he had turned to a career in cooking from his former career in wine, why he thought the English under-rated their own food and much more besides.

Overall, a very entertaining evening. And yes, I did buy his new book and stood in line for the great man to sign it too. Well, you have to do these things don’t you?

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