London - Celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo was born in Minori on the Amalfi coast, where he first started helping in local restaurant kitchens at the age of eight. He came to Britain in the late 1960s and spent his first years travelling around the country, working in local village restaurants and studying wild food. He then came to London where he worked as a chef in a number of restaurants before opening the award-winning Passione.
We first met Contaldo as the chef who inspired Jamie Oliver when they had worked together at Carluccio’s. Since then Contaldo’s Italian spirit has made him popular on TV; he has penned numerous cook books on authentic Italian cooking and he works with Oliver on his Jamie’s Italian restaurants.
First holiday memory?
I was born on the Amalfi Coast. When I was younger I used to see people come to the area on holiday but didn’t understand what the word meant. The first time I realised was when I brought my children back to my hometown Minori. That was a holiday.
Salina, in the Aeolian Islands, north-west of Sicily. My goodness, what a place, it was incredible. The flavour, the smell, the local produce, the cooking, the sea ... everything.
What have you learnt from your travels?
I always learn so much about the food and the different dishes that the people are cooking. Many of them are recipes I know, but you see them cooked in different ways.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I am mad about food and people. It’s so interesting to discover different cultures and what they eat.
I read more books when I am in England than when I go on holiday. Why would you want to read a book when there is so much to see?
Where has seduced you?
There are so many places. The Amalfi Coast, especially. Every time I go home I fall in love again when I see my mountains, the sea, the lemon groves and the food. But also Greece, in particular Sifnos island in the Cyclades: the white houses, the blue sea and lovely fresh tuna. I thought I was in heaven.
Worst travel experience?
I’ve never had a bad experience, but I am always afraid that the plane won’t leave on time or there will be a cancellation. But once I am on the plane, wherever I’m going, I know I will enjoy it.
Il San Pietro in Positano. I know the family there and they look after you so much. I do like a bit of fussing and to feel special when I go on holiday. They always give me this beautiful room overlooking the sea. You can call up room service and before you’ve hung up there’s already someone at your door. The food there is to dream about.
I love driving around the English countryside in my old car. It’s an E-type Jaguar that was given to me as a present, on my birthday, by Jamie (Oliver). I almost cried when I received it. In the countryside on Sunday afternoon, it’s my treasure.
Best meal abroad?
The best meal I ever had was in South Africa. I was in Camps Bay at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and the chef made me a fantastic meal of wild goat, with this lovely potato with lots of African spice. When they served it to me they said the meal was to celebrate the animal, to treat it with respect. The chef was a young boy with such talent.
Rome. The city is still a mystery, even though it goes back more than 2 000 years.
I’m going away with the family. We want to go back to Salina and the Aeolian Islands for a little tour. I have 10-year-old twins who have travelled with me around Europe, but they’ve never been there. I want to share a bit of quality time with them. – The Independent