As passionate, warm-hearted and colourful as his cooking, Antonio Carluccio is the nation’s favourite Italian chef. And is it any wonder when you hear him wax lyrical about food?

“Food is like music,” he says, dreamily, tucking into a wooden platter of antipasti. “There may only be seven notes but you can do so much with them.”

Now 78, Carluccio still has a lyrical bel canto voice (and still chain smokes), but he isn’t always as easygoing as his avuncular image suggests. Not least when it comes to his opinion of the supermarkets, from his belief they “don’t hang meat for long enough” to their treatment of suppliers.

“Today there is horrible competition between supermarkets and they press so hard on the farmers to see who can produce the cheapest for them. I worry for the farmers because they are often under too much strain. I’m afraid dairy farmers are being taken by the neck. In the long run, this doesn’t work because the farmers will go bust and the quality will sink.”

It’s one of the reasons why, at his ripe old age, he’s just signed up to be the brand ambassador for Cirio. He “grew up” using the brand and it makes an appearance in one of his early cookbooks. But he also says he was attracted because Cirio is “part of a much bigger co-operative that represents 14,500 artisan Italian farmers. I am happy to be part of that team and help raise their profile in the UK and Australia.”

As the new face of Cirio, Carluccio will appear across radio and print advertising in the UK and Australia as well as fronting video recipes. But he’s not content just to be an ambassador. He’s itching to speak to the Cirio product development team because he has “new ideas”.

Ideas have made Carluccio rich and famous. He arrived in the UK in 1975 and started out as a wine merchant, importing Italian wines. After managing and opening a couple of restaurants he opened his first Italian food shop, Carluccio’s, in 1991. He expanded it into a wholesale business in 1994 and in 1999 added a café. It floated in 2005, before Dubai-based retail giant Landmark Group made a £95m bid in 2010 (“somebody from Dubai bought the lot as a present to his wife”).

Yet money is not what motivated Carluccio. He wanted to “create a place where everybody could come to eat, in a relaxed setting, with good service, good prices and great simple food,” he says.

“Although Carluccio’s looks for profit it wants much more than that. If it just started to be an economical operation I wouldn’t be interested. It has to provide good food in a good atmosphere because that is very much part of the brand.”

Carluccio no longer owns the restaurants (he split his 10% stake with his ex-wife), but he still visits stores in his capacity as a consultant. With no children of his own, “the relationship between me and my staff is like the relationship between father and son” he adds. “They come to me with requests because they respect me and I treat my people like friends not like employees.”


His relationship hasn’t always been so positive. In 2008, Carluccio attempted suicide and admits the brand was a contributing factor. “There was a time when the brand was developed that I felt miserable. I was the brand. I saw myself as an image to be used and put here and there. I felt like I was losing my identity.”

Treatment at The Priory has since helped Antonio emerge from depression and allowed him to view his creation differently. “I see the brand is going well and I’m fine so I’m happy about it. When I enter a Carluccio’s I am aware that it is a good thing and I can show the staff the same enthusiasm. That’s what keeps it going.”

Since 1999 another 96 outlets have opened up across the UK, five in Turkey and 12 in the UAE with no sign of slowing down. Its latest financial figures show the brand remains highly cash-generative, with pre-tax profits increasing 5.9% to £14.3m.

“A lot has changed in the industry since the first Carluccio’s opened. Many of the big restaurants have turned into chains because production is easier when it is done industrially. There are very few who still cook all their food in-house because it’s already partly done. I never want Carluccio’s to fall into the hands of someone more interested in the economics, who turns it into a moneyspinner. It is made from my soul and uses my philosophy. And I never want to see it go bad.”


Age: 78

Birthplace: Vietri sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast

Status: Three times divorced

Kids: Not that I know of…

Motto: Mof Mof cuisine - minimum of fuss maximum of flavour

How do you relax? Whittling walking sticks, picking mushrooms and writing cookery books

What is your favourite meal? One that is shared with a person that I very much like - it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be just a slice of salami and a piece of bread because the right atmosphere can make any food become special