Food, Life and Love with Antonio Carlucio

Interview by Liz Schaffer & Photographs by Tom Bunning

Very sadly Commendatore Antonio Carluccio OBE passed away in November last year. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this interview with him, first published in Lodestars Anthology Issue 4, Italy. 

Proudly declaring himself to be a cook rather than a chef (by his own definition a chef is professional while a cook does it for passion), Antonio Carluccio was the quintessential Italian about London. Driven by his zest for food, life and Italy, it was the passing on of wisdom that inspires much of Carluccio’s work. Arriving in England via Austria and Germany, where he worked as a wine merchant for almost a decade, Carluccio launched a fleet of eponymous restaurants, ran some of the capital’s culinary icons, became a BBC fixture and was awarded an OBE, which he retitled his Order Boletus Edulis – the Latin name for mushroom, his signature. Young at heart, Carluccio’s enthusiasm was invigorating; proof that life should be lived in the pursuit of pleasure, ardour and flavour.

Your background and training are quite unconventional. Can you tell us about this and how you came to be a cook?

I was born on the Amalfi Coast and was the fifth son of a stationmaster. [We were] transported up North where I grew up near Asti, then I moved a little further up and worked for Olivetti. At the time Olivetti was something fantastic but I didn’t like it very much and I was thinking I could holiday on the Riviera and [there] I met an Austrian girl and we fell in love. She came to work in Olivetti and when my youngest brother died in 1960 she said, “why didn’t I come to Vienna?”.

I cooked all the time because in Vienna to have the food my mother used to [make] I had to cook. I remembered what she was doing because in Italy when you are the young son you participate in everything.

In Vienna I started to cook what I knew. I didn’t know very much but I cook and cook and I’m sharing it with friends and frequenting bohemian cafes. You meet incredible people and I like art so I met Oskar Kokoschka and Max Ernst and we were sharing pasta. I was having fun and cooking all the time. It was only when I came to England in 1975 [and] I was still cooking, that my ex-wife [suggested], “why you don’t [enter] the best cook competition of The Sunday Times?”. I did and I was in the final but for me it wasn’t professional, I was a wine merchant, but funnily enough the press began to contact me. For them I was ‘the Italian’, flamboyant and believing in mushrooms and pasta, and so I was in the press.

At the same time my ex-brother-in-law Terence Conran, the owner of the Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, asked me to run the restaurant and I said, “look I don’t cook, I don’t do administration, but I will be there doing the restaurant and running it”, which I did. Then came the BBC and I did quite a [few] food and drink programmes. My first Italian series was going to Italy doing twelve half an hours in all the regions. The other series was with Gennaro Contaldo but I did quite a lot in between and I was also writing books. I can’t stay doing nothing.

Do you think people are drawn to the Italian attitude towards food?

Italians live for food. When we were children going to school in the morning you’re already preoccupied by what you would eat in the day. It was the end of war time and the question to other children was “what will you eat for lunch?” and after the meal it was “what did you have for lunch?”, constantly. I remember in the afternoon, when you’re boys you do things, sometimes we were stealing a cabbage from the field and cutting it very, very thinly. Somebody [brought] olive oil, somebody a bit of vinegar and salt and pepper and we were making salad with bread. It was the best salad ever.

Is there an ethos or technique that sets your food apart?

I created a motto for my cooking, ‘mof mof’, minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour, and as such I don’t go to the lengths to elaborate on food because the most important thing is the taste. If you have the taste the look can be indifferent.

In fact we have items in Italy called brutte ma buone, ugly but good; fruit, even biscuits, that show you the possibility of the flavour. I dedicate everything to that which is obtained by regional food. Italy is famed for its 20 diverse regions.

What do you think makes them so distinctive?

Italy was unified in 1861 but I think in spirit each region is a country. You find culture in Italy from everywhere because each one was coming, the French, the Persians, everybody, to Italy. Even Alexander the Great was there. They united Italy in 1861 but there are different languages, different dialects, different customs. But they are united in thinking of the food as one of the best things.

They may be united by a love of food but is there still competition between the regions?

Between little villages! If somebody makes a dish someone in the next village will say, “ahh but I do it with this and this and this”. Immediately there is a conversation. I remember as a child if you were encountering somebody on road and it was lunchtime you would say, “do you want to have lunch?”. It was very simple. They would come home with you. So this is the attitude of the Italian, they really care. I always say that Italy has two or three million Michelin starred chefs, they’re all the housewives.

What do you love most about Italian cooking?

The Italians, what they have in front of others, the Germans, Austrians, English, French, is the attitude. I remember when we used to live in the train station my mother would say, “go downstairs and see if the trains are departing on time” in order to put the pasta in the water so that when papa was coming up the pasta was perfect. When you grow up with this sense of procedure and [significance] then you know food is important. She was really thinking to please other people because cooking for others is an act of love.

[Because of the various regions and diversity] I think that Italy has a more complete menu. There are 600 shapes of pasta and each can be done as a specialty with a special sauce, special ingredients. Italians want good taste and they’re prepared to use all those wonderful shops. In Napoli especially there were shops selling only pasta, and the pasta was loose, not in packets but in drawers, and all the leftovers were put into one ‘special’ and this is for pasta e fagioli – bean soup with pasta – which is wonderful, all bits and pieces. So they really have fun. While other nations have fun in eating the Italian has fun in thinking and imagining it.

What advice do you have for prospective chefs?

You have to desire food, not being greedy but being discerning about what you eat, and pay attention and love your food. If you don’t have those three things you stop cooking because there would be no point, it would just be a job, no fun. Food, it’s not only preparation but fun in eating. It’s good for the brain, for the body, the spirit, for everything.

 

 

Park City Mountain

By George Lavender

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Ansel Adams

George Lavender is a designer and art director based in New York who grew up on England’s South Coast. Having spent much of his time in cities – both New York and London – over the past few years he finds himself compelled to get away from his desk and head into the wild whenever possible. Many of his adventures revolve around snowboarding and the mountains, which means hiking trips in the Welsh hills or clambers over the boulders of Norway are never far from him mind. A creative at heart, he inevitably finds original ways to capture these daredevil jaunts. 

Find out more about George and his travels here: george-lavender.com

“Snowboarding is such a well documented sport in this day and age, it’s almost impossible to scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing several tweaked grabs or cork spins. However, having just purchased a new (old) 35mm film camera, I wasted no time in booking my own snowboarding escape and snapping away during my trip to Park City Mountain, Utah. I’ve always been fascinated by the moments of pure stillness and tranquility in the mountains, the kind that stop you in your tracks so you can just take a minute to appreciate your surroundings. That’s the quality that shooting rolls of film teaches you, make every shot count and take it all in.”

All images shot with Olympus XA2 on Kodak portra 400.

In Search of Chaos

India is impossible to fully understand. Alive with contradiction and sacrificing any semblance of order for an intoxicating sense of possibility, here neighbouring communities feel worlds apart and normality means very little indeed.

Aware that India would be equal parts confronting and mesmeric, I read all I could before travelling, falling for the poetic brilliance of Arundhati Roy, getting swept up in the drama of Gregory David Roberts and encountering Indian creativity with Tara Books. For good measure I even gave up days to Bollywood classics. But nothing quite prepares you for the moment you hit the ground – the noise, colour and chaos. As a writer I strive to avoid cliches but with India you simply can’t. This country is everything. All at once. The living, somehow-functioning embodiment of ‘feast for the senses’.

And so I quickly discovered that India is beyond comprehension – it’s far too focused on revelling in its own complexities – but that’s part of its allure. For instead of trying to grasp it, you give yourself over to the moment, experiencing everything as it unfolds and getting swept up in the romance of it all.

People talk about coming to India to find themselves but after my month in Rajasthan I wonder instead if this is where you come to lose yourself. Surrounded by passion and life, you don’t feel like a single entity, but rather like you’re part of a wonderfully mad story where no one really worries about the plot.

Which is where Polaroids and rose-tinted glasses prove handy. Firmly rooting you in the analogue world, this camera forces you to consider every shot, talk to your subjects and work with the setting at hand. Essentially, be present and accept imperfection. And India couldn’t be a better subject. Diverse and brilliantly bonkers, it can never be fully captured and so you let go and just embrace it, savouring your photographic memories and those lingering traces of its unique frantic energy long after a holiday’s end.

Post created with the fab sunnies brand Sunday Somewhere and, of course, Polaroid Originals!

Minimal Norway

Words & Photographs by Auriane ALIX (@aurianealixphotography)

The infinite nature of White is inspiring. White as a colour. White as a space. An empty space waiting to be filled. Or left as is. White draws the viewer’s eyes towards what’s important. Or towards the small details asking to express themselves.

Some people are afraid of White. Anxious. How to fill this blank, infinite space? Where to begin? If for some people, White is an impediment to creativity, it is the detonator of an explosion of ideas for others. White makes everything possible. White is a field without foundations, from where we can construct everything.

White is permanent. Constant. You can cover it up, but not make it disappear. It will always be there, just underneath the surface. Whatever we do, White is here, under creativity, under the ideas written down on paper, or somewhere else. White is a base. Malleable, it is suitable to every inspiration. The cradle of human creativity.

White is relaxing, restful and peaceful, like a slow watercourse, without any waves. It soothes the conscience, heals darkness. Chases shadows away. Illuminates faces. Icon of purity, it conveys a feeling of achievement, of work well-done.

Minimalism. White leads to refinement. Simplicity, without uselessness. However, simple doesn’t rhyme with bland. Once again, minimalism draws the viewer’s eyes towards what’s important. There is no place for the superfluous, forced to give up its seat for the scope of purity, the scope of nothing, the scope of White.

White snow is resplendent. The snowflakes fall from thick clouds, almost in slow motion, leisurely, gently, carefully, as if they were afraid of breaking their many frozen crystals. The snow is soothing, soft, elegant. The flakes touch the ground in hushed, muffled sounds. Pile up on tree branches, letterbox corners or sloping roofs.

In Norway, where I was standing, all I could see was White. Bright White. I was surrounded by light. Outside the car, it was so cold that I could barely feel my hands while taking those images. As I walked in this blind immensity, I could hear my feet sink into the snow with this typical and satisfying sound, while I could feel my body stoop a few millimetres with each step.

While the car was slowly making its way around the icy patches on the frozen road, some details caught my attention before disappearing again behind the rough, invisible landscape.

This landscape made me feel simultaneously trapped and free. I couldn’t even distinguish the skyline from the snow. The distances were blurred. Touches of colour appeared from times to times. A cabin almost covered in snow. A road sign rendered invisible by the amount of snow on it. Some people snowkiting, their coloured veil beautifully contrasting on the bright white snow.

But the main feeling was freedom. Whether it was freedom conveyed by the almost infinite playground and landscape I had in front of me, or by the magical effect of White.

Auriane’s images are available as prints at auriane.alix@gmail.com

The Abbey Hotel

I adore Bath for many, many reasons. Firstly, it’s the home of the absolutely wonderful Magalleria – stockists extraordinaire – as well as Mr B’s – one of the UK most delightful book stores. There are Jane Austen connections aplenty (even if her relationship with the city was a touch tempestuous), healing waters, afternoon tea destinations worth travelling for (case in point, The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa) and a rather inspiring local creative community – we’ve stumbled upon more than a few contributors in this town, making Society Cafe and Colonna & Small’s our temporary offices on multiple occasions (coffee lovers take note).

When you love a city this intensely you find yourself venturing there repeatedly – which means you’re often in search of rather inviting places to rest your head. And our latest find is a grand one indeed, especially if you have a fondness for fine fare, cocktails with character and a location that is as central as can be. Found, as the name suggest, right beside the magnificent Bath Abbey (when England’s first King was crowned … fun fact) and a mere amble from those much-adored Roman Baths, you walk into this stone structure to find a hotel positively brimming with art and personality.

Built from three converted Georgian townhouses, The Abbey Hotel is filled with works from the private collection of its previous owners; picture a vibrant combination of Picasso prints, vintage maps and contemporary wonders. These are most striking in the appropriately named ArtBar, with boats covetable lighting features and a cocktail list you’ll find yourself all to keen to make your way through. Here the inventive tipples taste as delicious as they look; delightful, creative indulgences that will not cost you much more than your cognitive facilities (temporarily). 

Artistic flourishes elevate the hotel’s 62 rooms and while these are perfectly cosy it’s the restaurant, Allium, that is the true standout. Modern artworks are ever present but there is also an Old World richness to the space thanks to the bold colours and dramatic wooden tables. This is the domain of chef Rupert Taylor and his dishes are perfectly British and suitably magical. Flavours are inventively balanced and at times a touch unexpected, the hearty winter dinner I feasted upon (featuring venison, parsnip puree and beetroot carpaccio) remaining surprisingly light and deliciously moorish. The experience is enhanced further by Allium’s wine list. You’ll inevitably fall asleep feeling totally sated and wake thrilled to discover that breakfast awaits. 

Should you require a spot of post-feasting pampering pay a visit to No 15 Great Pulteney – the hotel’s sister property that’s equally art-besotted – and spend an afternoon in their spa, before proceeding to the lesser-explored Holburne Museum and then wander along the canal to keep those holiday vibes flowing. Do this and I’m sure you’ll soon agree that Bath is utterly worthy of adoration. 

To discover more, pay a visit to the hotel’s website by clicking here.

Coffee and Culture in Champa Gali

Words by Lee Grewal & Photographs by Bhanu Uttam & Isabelle Hopewell  

The tight laneways of Saket in South Delhi, lined with sauntering cows and haphazard roadside fruit carts, are an unlikely gateway to one of the city’s best-kept secrets. But walk a little further into the village of Saidulajab and you’ll find yourself in a Parisian-style passageway complete with design studio, tea rooms, cafes and laneway seating. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Champa Gali, even locals are only just starting to uncover this creative Delhi hideaway.  

Until recently the poetically named Frangipani Lane was home to makeshift furniture stores, cow sheds and workshops, but it was transformed into the avant garde arts hub a couple of years ago and is slowly gaining in popularity. The community space holds a natural appeal for artists, writers and photographers who collect in the artisan coffee houses. Even though it’s been tried before, the success of turning a ramshackle village in Delhi into a cultural hot spot has given Champa Gali a feel all of its own.  

It’s only one street, but like the backstreets of European towns where the most creative and free-thinking cultures emerge, so it is with Champa Gali. The uni students with open laptops leaning against the whitewashed walls give the lane a youthful low-key vibrancy. Friends wander in and out of the little stores looking for original art pieces and handmade gifts. In the ambient reading room and tea house of Jugmug Thela, the owner calls himself the Chief Chaiwalla and is happiest serving customers his fusion chai blends and filling the space with spicy aromas. His was one of the first stores to open and Jiten Suchede is still the person most likely to share the secrets and history of Champa Gali with curious visitors.

This thriving little village lane is a hub for meetings, both social and corporate, with plenty of places to inspire. There’s Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, where the aroma of coffee catches you as you walk in. Patrons mull over projects and catch up along the communal table that acts as the room’s centrepiece, while the shaded courtyard at the back is abuzz with chatter. If your taste buds seek something more, then the fusion flavours of Pho King Awesome will take you on a whirlwind trip around the world. With a mix of Asian, Mexican and Indian dishes it tastes like the Spice Route but feels like a rustic cafe and looks something like Mykonos. 

By day the street has a lovely rural feel, a fleeting escape from the jumble of mainstream Delhi just blocks away. Occasionally in the evening it comes alive with pop up events and offbeat music programs. Hosting art exhibitions, poetry and music nights, Champa Gali shares its soulful, blended experience with those looking for the unceremonious side of Delhi. And it’s blossoming into a liberating little urban neighbourhood along the way.

You can find more of 2gals work by clicking here.

Chasing Landscapes

Tom Bunning Lac d'Aiguebelette

Seeking beauty, soliloquies and great heights in Savoie Mont Blanc

Photography by Tom Bunning, words by Jen Harrison Bunning

Think of the Alps and your mind might conjure up pale peaks and wooden chalets puffing merry little smoke plumes from their chimneys. It’s mid-February, or March perhaps, and there you are slotting perfectly into the winter alpine scene: whizzing down slopes, knocking powder from your boots and sipping chocolat chaud with blankets on your knees and the soft sun on your face.

Think of the Alps and you probably wouldn’t picture yourself in the height of summer following gently twisting roads to explore a land awash with lush green fields and flower-filled plains, and speckled with turquoise lakes. The Alps in winter? We had the measure of that alright, but the Alps in summer was an unknown and delicious-sounding prospect.

So in late August we set off to explore the richly contrasting natural beauty of the Savoie Mont Blanc region. We would immerse ourselves gently: first a dip in the magical oasis of one of France’s largest lakes, then onwards in the path of the brave Tour de France riders, winding our way (by automobile, naturally) along the Relais du Chat.

We’d climb the Col du Pré, swing our way up to the l’Aiguille du Midi to gaze upon the terrifying beauty of the White Lady of the Alps and her rocky courtiers, and end up in the shadow of a sea of ice that inspired a literary monster’s lair. This was big game landscape hunting, and we were off.

Tom Bunning Lac d'Aiguebelette

 

Nestled in the crook of the long ridge of the Chaîne de l’Epine, Lac d’Aiguebelette is a shimmering emerald wonderland. With wild reeds, gently sloping banks, little golden beaches and waters that can reach 28°C, it’s no wonder that children from the hamlets dotting the surrounding terraced hills often learn to swim before they can walk.

We took a boat out into the middle of the lake where we paused to soak it all in. With no motorised vessels allowed on the water, the only sounds to be heard were those of the reeds whispering in a gentle wind, rower’s oars dipping in and out of the turquoise depths, delighted cries from young swimmers and the odd fisherman’s barque gliding past in search of lake-fish.

We looked down upon the mill-pond water with its reflections of lush green trees and silvered rocks and then cast our eyes skyward to see a trio of hang-gliders flying silently overhead, their bright sails casting shadows on the side of the ridge as they passed . . .

Tom Bunning Col de Pre

We were off on a mission to the Roselend Dam via the Col du Pré mountain pass. This scenic, twisting road took us through the region’s highest village, Boudin, situated at some 1,300 metres above sea level. The 20-odd chalets that make up this picturesque hamlet are grouped in rows, all clutching the slope’s edge with their faces turned down and out into the valley. Despite being designated as a protected heritage site since the early 1940s, Boudin remains a living and breathing year-round community that’s kept busy by tourism in winter and quietly gets on with agricultural matters the rest of the year. As we wandered past its wooden huts with neatly-stacked wood stores, taking in a 16th century baroque chapel and community bread oven, we imagined life here in bygone days; the harsh, isolating winters no doubt justified by summer’s soft and curving undercoat of greens and golds, embroidered with wildflower meadows and scattered with gently lowing cattle . .

Tom Bunning Roselend Dam

Unlike nature’s pearls of d’Aiguebelette and Bourget, Lac de Roselend has been hewn out of the land by the hands of men, but it’s no less beautiful for that. This 3.2 kilometre reservoir is nestled in the heart of farming country near the foothills of the Mont Blanc massif. Somewhere in its depths lies the submerged hamlet of Roselend, swallowed up by the dam on its creation in the 60s, but this vanished village is the lake’s secret, its innocent surface as smooth and bright as stained glass . . .

Aiguille du Midi, France - Photographed by Tom Bunning

. . . We stood in line to board the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi and looked up at the lines of metal cable spinning towards the skies. It seemed impossible: an extraordinary feat of engineering, but it was as real as can be, and we were going up there. If you’ve a head for heights you might like to look out of the windows as you journey up the cliff face but I must confess that I remained firmly in the centre of the car, eyes squeezed shut and heart in my mouth as we rolled along, jolting over pillars in great swings to the whoops of fellow (quite clearly deranged) passengers. One down, another to go, and this 20-minute torture ride would be over. As we were hustled out onto the platform at the Plan de l’Aiguille (a mere 2,317m) and once again stood in line to face certain death, several variations of I can’t believe you made me do this and many unprintable words were uttered. But then, after one more stomach-jerking ride up into the abyss, we had reached our destination, de l’Aiguille du Midi, a 3842m peak in the Mont Blanc massif with panoramic views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

. . .  and then there were the mountains, those great condors of the earth – Dome du Gouter, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc du Tacul, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Grand Combin and, of course, Mont Blanc herself – with their craggy heads cast skyward and ridged wings of rock cascading across the range to touch a fellow giant.

With our heads in those clouds and our feet unsteadily rooted to the ground some 3,700m above sea level, we watched as climbers, swaddled in layers, clambered over the metal gate one-by-one, slowly but surely inching out onto the Arête des Cosmiques ridge and then down to the vast glacial plains below, growing smaller and smaller until they were Lilliputian in scale.

. . . Montenvers lay ‘undiscovered’ until the 18th century when two Englishmen, the bumptious young aristocrat William Windham and the experienced international explorer Richard Pococke, met in Geneva. Tempted by reports of the terrifying, untamed ice fields of Savoye and its inhospitable locals, the pair embarked on an expedition to hunt down those wild landscapes for themselves. In 1791, together with a band of friends, servants, porters and guides, they set out on a five-hour trek up the rocky, overgrown path towards Le Montenvers. What they discovered at the summit had them in raptures; “you have to imagine a lake ruffled by a tempestuous wind frozen up all of a sudden,’’ said Windham, giving the glacier its name, La Mer de Glace, or Sea of Ice. Five years later, local explorers Jaques Balmat and Dr Joseph Vallot went one further and reached the summit of Mont Blanc but, no doubt to the great relief of the tight-knit population of farmers – who had already ‘discovered’ these high mountain pastures and were eking out a tenuous existence grazing their small flocks of sheep – it was to be another 20 years before the climb to Le Montenvers became popular with the masses.

. . . “This is the most desolate place in the world.” So said Mary Shelley when she visited the Mer de Glace together with Percy Bysse Shelley. She had started writing Frankenstein a month earlier while staying with Lord Byron at his Villa Diodati and it is said that her trip to Montenvers and the strange dreams she experienced while staying overnight there, inspired the dramatic scene where Victor and his creation meet.

I suffered a severe teenage pash for Percy B. S., wallowing in fountains mingling with rivers, sunlight clasping the earth, moonbeams kissing the sea etc. etc., before dumping him for the rather more real and troublesome prospect of long-haired boys of few words, cameras and fast cars. Now I barely recognise that poetically enraptured young woman of my past but, as dusk fell and we stood gazing out at the Mer de Glace, some of that doomed brooding poet’s lines came to mind and there, with the pockmarked rocks glowing red around us, a glinting river of ice snaking below, and the looming night swallowing up the last of the light, they seemed not silly nor overly romantic, but dark and earthy and true.

In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them.
Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow.

Abbreviated article, extract from Lodestars Anthology Issue 9: France