May 30 2012 EXCLUSIVE by Ben Spencer
Gennaro Contaldo Image 3
IT was only seconds after I had met celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo but he was already rearranging my clothes and thrusting a chef’s jacket over my head.
The 64-year-old star of BBC show Two Greedy Italians is also a business partner of Jamie Oliver and had popped in to visit the pair’s Jamie’s Italian restaurant in George Square.
When I decided to chance my arm and ask the Italian chef for a cooking lesson I didn’t realise quite what I was getting myself into.
The dad-of-six has a huge affection for Glasgow - living here for three years in the 1970s - and told me about it as he enthusiastically rolled up my shirt sleeves.
Gennaro said: “My time in Glasgow stayed with me. Coming back has made me feel like I never left.
“I stayed on Hope Street and worked on and off in a few restaurants. It was incredible.
“I also worked in a place called the Fish Inn in Alexandria in 1976, but it’s not there any more.
“There were so many Italians serving fish and chips and so much good Italian food.
“The produce here is amazing too - the mussels, the lamb, the beef... and the girls! I nearly married a Scottish girl.”
To start things off Gennaro decided to show me how to make pasta.
He cracked two eggs over a bowl of around 150g of flour and then mixed them together before slamming them onto a table top.
Gennaro ordered me to “get me hands in there” and start kneading the mixture together.
Once it was mixed the master chef showed me how to cut the dough into chunks and place it into a pasta machine.
This then flattened the dough into ever thinner strips until a fine strip came out with a silk-like feel.
First the Italian matestro whipped out a sharp knife to cut some tagilatelli ribbons of pasta.
When Jamie’s Italian opened in 2010 it proved so popular that one evening the restaurant somehow ran out of pasta.
Gennaro winces when I remind him of this.
“They told me and I asked how they could run out of pasta. They said ‘chef, we haven’t been shown how to make it’.
“They know now! Jamie and I are not surprised how succesful these places have been though because we know have good the food is.”
Next up Gennaro decided to show me how to make tortellini.
He placed a dollop of ricotta cheese, sesoned with salt, into the middle and then folded the pasta like an origami master to make a ring shape.
Showing his skills he even folded one while staring directly into my eyes and never looking at his creation.
My attempts were less stylish but did get a nod of approval from the chef.
“It’s OK, but this one we cannot sell”, he joked.
We took the pasta into the kitchen itself and the vivacious man became even more full of life - bellowing across the room.
The tortellini was placed into boiling salted water for just a minute before being served with a simple sauce of sage and butter.
Meanwhile Gennaro showed me how to make a simple sauce for the tagialtelli with tomatoes, chilli and garlic.
The proud Italian looked at the tagliatelli before stating, “this one looks a bit crap”.
He then rearranged the dish and smothered them both in grated parmesan.
Both dishes were delicious, with the sage in particular bursting out of the sauce, although I did feel like I might have been in a scene from Lady And The Tramp when Gennaro insisted on feeding me some of the pasta himself!
While we ate Gennaro told me about his closeness to Jamie Oliver, who he described as like a “son”.
He said: “I have this association with Jamie since he was a teenager. When I went away with work Jmie was always watiting for me when I came back, like a son does for his father.
“I speak to Jamie every single day. My wife get annoyed because she says when she asks me to go out I say I am too tired, but when Jamie asks I go out!”
Gennaro also showed me a copy of his new book Two Greedy Italians Eat Italy, which he signed for diners in the restaurant.
Although my attempts at pasta may not have been good to sell in the restaurant, Gennaro did have some words of encouragement for me.
“It’s OK. You have passione.”