'My philosophy on food is much like my philosophy on life, to look for and make the best of beautiful ingredients: minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour.'
Born in a little town on the Amalfi Coast in the south of Italy, and raised in the wooded northern regions, Antonio Carluccio says he is a traveller and explorer at heart and the journey has taken him far. Describing himself as a sensitive and sensual character in his memoir, A Recipe for Life, he explains how he loves nothing more than to enjoy the sun on his face, prepare food with his hands, smell the earth on a freshly-picked mushroom or truffle, paint a picture, savour a slice of cheese, or whittle a hazel wood walking stick.
Speaking at a fireside dinner at the Kamberra Wine Company last week, the self-taught cook (not 'chef', as he mindfully pointed out) said his culinary inspiration stemmed from his mother, Maria. She was married to Giovanni Carluccio, the station master in the town of Vietri sul Mare. He reflected on one of his earliest memories: how he was sent down to the platform to check if the train was departing on time. As soon as he caught glimpse of it coming down the track he would run back upstairs to the kitchen and alert his mother so that she could start cooking the pasta for the family lunch. By the time Giovanni took his seat at the head of the table, the pasta was perfectly al dente. 'My mother was a good cook and papa was a good critic. He couldn't cook but he was good critic,' he said with a smile.
The Commendatore has had a lifelong love of hunting and collecting mushrooms and funghi—he was first taught by his father at the age of seven in Piedmont, and these days goes foraging in the English countryside with The Prince of Wales. He says they share jokes together, and he chuckles as he tells us one of HRH's stories, which is not so suitable to publish here. 'Looking for mushrooms in the woods is like a treasure hunt and when you cook those fresh mushrooms, the porcini, they taste wonderful.' When it comes to mushrooming, he provides sage advice: 'If you don't know mushrooms, go with someone who knows and only pick the varieties they are familiar with.'
Chef Carluccio attended several events during the Canberra & Capital Region Truffle Festival, including exclusive dinners, hands-on cooking classes, public cooking demonstrations, visits to both the Capital Region Farmers Market and the Fyshwick Markets, and book signings where he spent time meeting and greeting his many fans.
'I was very happy to be chosen as the Patron of the Truffle Festival, my goodness,' he said, clearly chuffed. 'Truffles are definitely better in Australia,' he added, singing the praises of both the truffles he tasted here, as well as the knowledge, dedication and understanding demonstrated by the Australian truffle growers he has met (particularly Peter Marshall at Terra Preta).
'One word of advice, in Europe they are putting truffle everywhere. Truffle has to be a lovely scent that you enjoy in micrograms and not in kilos, otherwise it becomes banal instead of precious—so buy only a few grams every year.' He told a very humorous story about the friend of a regular customer who munched on a 'one-hundred quid truffle', not knowing what is was or how much it was worth. 'He thought it was a chocolate truffle,' he said, laughing.
In response to the last question for the evening, which was 'What would you like your final meal to be?', he answered: 'Something utterly simple, perhaps spaghettini with fresh tomato and basil.'
And finally, 'Treat ingredients simply; don't drink too much; and eat truffles!'
I would like to thank the Canberra & Capital Region Truffle Festival for kindly inviting me to the pre-dinner media event at which I was honoured to meet Antonio Carluccio (and his lovely partner, Sabina, an archaeologist), as well as hosting my attendance at the Fireside Stories degustation dinner, where I was seated at the V.I.P. table.
The Canberra & Capital Region Truffle Festival is an annual event and continues until late August or when the truffles run out.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy truffles and are you a fan of Antonio Carluccio? Which of his many books is your favourite? And do you have a favourite recipe of his?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.