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Tuesday 13 July 2010

Meeting & Eating With Gennaro Contaldo

By Leluu

There wasn’t a moment of consideration when we were invited to meet, learn from and eat with Gennaro Contaldo at L’Atelier des Chefs – (a cooking school in Central London). Yes Please! Genarro is Jamie Oliver’s mentor! The guy is a genius, a respected TV chef, a personality, an entertainer and above all he is an Italian!
We all know that the Italians are loud about loving their food and they love to cook well, eat well and live well. Its summer time and summer means Italy! Whether you’re going there on holiday to take some sun, living la vida loca, or take some time out for “Eat Pray Love” like Elizabeth Gilbert - whose trip was all about la dolce vita (we will soon see highlights of our Liz portrayed by Julia Roberts at the movies) or you’re just at home and the taste of Italy is just in simple ingredients like garlic, tomatoes and basil.
Gennaro from Amalfi has always struck as a typical Italian with his ancient Neapolitan gestures and mannerisms. You know, the one with all the tips of the fingers of one hand bought together pointing upwards and then shaken violently up and down depending on the degree of impatience. Is he a caricature of his own stereotype or is this how he always is – at home and elsewhere – a marveling Italian with spirit and ‘passione’, having a lifetime love affair with food.

This is a very nice book, "Supplement To The Italian Dictionary" by Bruno Munari you can learn how to speak volumes with gestures or at least understand what the heck the Italians are on about. (I always thought the one with the finger turning in circles pointing towards the ear means: you’re thick – but it means – Call me.. he he)
Gennaro is the new face of Bertolli for the new soffritto range of pasta sauces such as Basilico, Arrabbiata and Napoletana (the ‘soffritto’ technique is chopped onions sweating in the finest olive oil as slowly as possible to make a flavoursome base). 
Whom better than this strong, vocal, humorous and fatherly figure we see on TV – a household brand and a household celebrity chef hand in hand.
His hand shake is as steady as a rock, his presence and charisma locks you captive as he sets to inspire, teach and share the wealth of his knowledge and skill for making good food. He shouts, his voice is loud and his gestures make you listen and hear every word and every detail is an inspiration. Here is a man defined by his love, his passion, his talents in honour of good food and he is willing to represent jar sauces. Might you be cynical?
As a lazy so-and-so, I don’t always cook sauces from scratch for myself– because I don’t always have the time or the energy to after a hard day’s work. Before coming to this event, I am already a Bertolli consumer – its one of the tastier ones from the supermarket – I am already sold.
The Italians believe that great food makes life worth living but also don’t always want or need to cook from scratch every day. Therefore, many Italian households consume sauces from a jar such as Bertolli – because if a good sauce already exists – sometimes you just don’t want to go through the bother of cooking when you can be doing something else.
I wouldn’t believe for one second that manufacturers of these sauces would get away with selling such bad tasting sauces like the famous ones sold in the UK, that fill supermarket lanes because no one would buy them. Thank goodness for Bertolli, (Barilla & Agnesi).
It is amazing to think that some Italian guy, Francesco Bertolli, probably the same as Gennaro back in 1865 set up a small family stall selling olive oils, wine, cheese and olives. Did he imagine that generations after he had lived that so many homes of millions of families around the world would enjoy a range of what he started underneath his family home?
Our “cooking lesson” with Gennaro was just like watching him perform as he does so well on shows. He must have taste a pomodoro sauce a thousand times and over but it seems that every time he tastes his creation – its like it’s the first time. He bangs his spoon in delight and exclaims to God, “Oh! Its beautiful! Fantastic! Uhmmmmmmmm! God! I am good at cooking!"
Gennaro is possessed as he stands at his kitchen, creating magic – it is like he is in his element, his whole body language and expressions is deployed like poetry. We were all in awe. Don’t we just love these characters who are not afraid of expression. Who are so free about their passion and so high in spirits. He is a very funny man and to learn from him must be the greatest gift you can receive.
He is still working with Jamie Oliver and trains new chefs at ‘Jamie’s Italian.’ Gennaro also gives private cooking lessons at his home in North London – you can check it all out on his website:
At dinner we were lucky enough to sit next to him and his best mate, Paolo, a chef at Etrusca and they were both teaching us Italian signs like, your brains doesn’t work, you’re breaking my balls and so on. Heh! Gennaro was rolling out the jokes, “in Italian, its funny”. Cultures always love talking about their culture and of course we had some pasta, one with mackerel and one with beef and Bertolli sauce. It was really nice. And a delight to meet Paolo and Gennaro.


  1. :D He sounds just like he is on the telly! I am sorry that work prevented me from making this event! That linguine with the fish on top looks gorgeous.

  2. I love the pics you have of Gennaro gesticulating like an enraged mafiosi don in a New York jail. Brilliant. If he is half as passionate as these pics (and your write) suggests then his cooking classes must be a lot of fun.

    Bravo on talking about the sauces, too many people regard pre-prepared food as some sort of ghastly secret, never to be talked about. But when you don't feel like cooking, that sort of thing can be a godsend. My dirty secret is M&S fish meals - when I'm not in the mood (or have loads of work) and just want fast healthy food, I'll pick up their fish cakes or fish bakes for dinner.

    And you know something, a lot of Italians do the same. Especially when it comes to dessert. Why make one when your local cake shop can do one pretty much as good?

  3. @Su-Lin
    The fish and the linguine was excellent. Gennarro sweated the onions for a while and cooked the fish to perfection. To have such a wonderful dish within no time at all is a blessing!

    @The Grubworm
    Yes - I have already tried to get cooking lessons but its sold out at the moment. Got my eye on it and will let you know too. Would love to learn more from Gennaro.

    Like you, I am not ashamed to say that I eat pre- prepared food, I don't always want to cook - I am just a regular person. I love food and I often seek out the best pre- prepared stuff for these rainy days. I won't settle or buy for anything that is of poor quality.

    Obviously - we make almost everything from scratch for the supper club - thats why lessons with Gennaro will come in really handy for life and for everything!


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