LONDON: Celebrity chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio — whose television programmes and books were credited with turning British households on to Italian cooking — died on Wednesday aged 80.
The London-based Carluccio was known for his namesake restaurant chain and his nurturing of the Naked chef Jamie Oliver, who became an even greater television star.
“It is with great sadness that we announce that Commendatore Antonio Carluccio OBE sadly passed away this morning,” his website said.
The son of a station master, Carluccio grew up in the countryside of Italy’s northwestern Piedmont region. He briefly worked as a journalist for La Stampa newspaper in Turin before moving to Vienna when he was 21 to study languages.
Carluccio, however, then moved into the food and drink industry as an importer of Italian wine in Germany from 1962, moving to London in 1975. He opened the Neal Street Restaurant in central London in 1981, whose customers included Prince Charles — the heir to the throne — and pop star Elton John.
The restaurant — which ran for 26 years — launched the career of Oliver, who started out there as a pastry chef.
Oliver, 42, said he heard the news with “great sadness”.
He shared a picture on Instagram of an “inspirational” Carluccio cookbook, which first got him “hooked on pasta” and drove him to work for the Italian master.
“He was such a charismatic, charming don of all things Italian! Always hanging out the front door of the restaurant with a big fat cigar, a glass of something splendid and his amazing fuzzy white hair,” Oliver said.
“He was an amazing food ambassador that will be sorely missed.
“Cook a feast up there, mate.”
The Italian chef co-founded the British high street restaurant chain Carluccio’s in 1999, which now also has outlets in the Middle East.
He wrote more than 20 books about cookery, largely on Italian food, and on mushrooms — a lifelong passion that began with his childhood foraging in rural Piedmont.
His motto was “MOF MOF”: minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour.
In his autobiography, he revealed he had a history of depression stemming from his brother’s death in 1960. He stabbed himself in the chest in 2008 in a suicide attempt.
Italy made him a Commendatore — the equivalent of a knighthood — in 1998 for services to his homeland.
In 2007, Queen Elizabeth II made him an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the country’s catering industry.
The Carluccio’s chain said it was “incredibly saddened”.
“It isn’t just Antonio’s name above our doors, but his heart and soul lives and breathes throughout our restaurants,” it added.
“Antonio has been a huge inspiration to many of us and his energy, zest for life and sense of humour will be greatly missed.”