The Godfather of Italian cooking, and self-confessed ‘mushroom maniac’, Antonio Carluccio died this week aged 80. The chef and restaurateur opened his first restaurant in London in 1981 in Covent Garden’s Neal Street, and went on to become a household name publishing 22 cookbooks and starring in several TV programs, including Antonio Carluccio’s Italian Feast and the BBC2 series Two Greedy Italians, in which he famously bickered with co-star chef Gennaro Contaldo.
A statement from Carluccio’s agent on Wednesday afternoon said: “It is with great sadness that we announce that Commendatore Antonio Carluccio OBE sadly passed away this morning.”
His Neal Street restaurant was designed in collaboration with Carluccio’s brother-in-law Sir Terence Conran. Carluccio was married to Conran’s sister Priscilla for 28 years and the connection was important to both men. Priscilla was also an integral part of building the Carluccio restaurant empire and has described herself in the past as being ‘a handbag to the men in my life‘.
Carluccio opened a delicatessen next door to his Neal Street restaurant in 1991, but it wasn’t until 1998 that he launched the now ubiquitous Carluccio’s Caffè. This high street brand was built on its food emporium feel, as much as it was a restaurant. Simon Kossoff, who stepped down as the company’s chairman last year, was instrumental in driving the brand’s growth.
A statement from the Carluccio’s restaurant chain said: “We are incredibly saddened by the news that Antonio Carluccio, our founder, passed away on Wednesday. Antonio built Carluccio’s from one restaurant to the fantastic brand it is today. It isn’t just Antonio’s name above our doors, but his heart and soul lives and breathes throughout our restaurants.
“Antonio was an OBE, OMRI and a much-loved and respected Italian cookery writer, cook, restaurateur, food expert and TV personality. He was regarded as the godfather of Italian cooking. Antonio has been a huge inspiration to many of us and his energy, zest for life and sense of humour will be greatly missed.”
Carluccio was appointed commendatore by the Italian government in 1998 – the equivalent of a British knighthood. He received an OBE from the Queen in 2007 for services to the catering industry.