I was suspended from cooking school for kissing girls on the college steps.
I came to the UK at 19. I had a fascination with Escoffier and wanted to work at The Savoy because he had worked there. I wasn’t at all interested in Italian food, but I’ve regressed to being an Italian cook now.
Coming from a tiny village in northern Italy [Corgeno in Lombardy], arriving in London was an incredible roller coaster.
I still enjoy cooking Italian food. For me there remains a sense of ignorance: every day someone teaches me something about Italian food I didn’t know before.
I have held a star for my cooking for 15 years, five at Zafferano and 10 at Locanda Locatelli. I’m pretty relaxed about it – we just get on with it and do the job properly. I still find it a complete joy to be in my kitchen cooking with my boys.
In Italy the core of the restaurant market is still producing dishes in a very traditional way. But the new generation will be more open to technical and cultural advancement, so now is a very interesting time for food back home.
We have a saying in Italy, ‘The cobbler always has holes in his shoes.’ Chefs are always hungry because they are so busy cooking for other people.
My cousins had a pastry shop in Gallarate, near Milan. It gave me my first taste of an industrial kitchen. I used to love going in there as a child.
When we first opened Locanda Locatelli it was very much a northern Italian restaurant with lots of dishes from Lombardy. It has evolved into a multiregional now, but the basis for the dishes is still traditional.
I have a restaurant in Dubai. Ronda Locatelli in The Atlantis Hotel. It’s been a huge learning curve, but I’m glad I did it. I try to visit five times a year and move my team between London and the UAE.
It is difficult making authentic regional Italian cooking fit in with the demands of international guests at a high-end restaurant. I think we just about get the balance right.
French stocks and sauces are more refined and elaborate than those you would find in most Italian kitchens, which tend to be made without reduction. At Locanda we generally make stocks the French way.
When I worked in France after leaving The Savoy, they thought I was the lowest of the low: an Italian who had learnt French cooking from les rosbifs.
After visiting my family in northern Italy one time too many, Plaxy [Locatelli’s wife] said: “I’ll come to Italy every year as long as you don’t ever take me to Lombardy again.” We’ve now been having family holidays in Sicily for 16 years. It’s a very special place for us.
I’ve seen some incredible young Italian chefs working back home that are innovating while simultaneously respecting their raw materials and local traditions. Their dishes look like pieces of the land.
Sicilian dishes have found their way onto the menu at Locanda. I met some brilliant food producers doing the research for my book and TV series Made in Sicily, so it seemed a shame not to use them now we have that relationship.
Getting ingredients at Ronda Locatelli is fine when the planes are running. It would be good if it was more sustainable. For me, that’s the crucial next step for that part of the world.
The ‘Italians Do It Better’ pop-up is a showcase for traditional and modern Italian cooking. We offer one traditional and one contemporary menu; at the moment take up is about 50:50.
My boy is 22 and my girl is 16, she’s doing her GCSEs now. My son is studying film at university. Of course, I’ll be very happy to have him in the kitchen at Locanda – but I fear he’s very messy.