Giorgio Locatelli: «The French insulted us, but now Italy can walk tall»

The chef from Varese, one Michelin star in London, tells us his story. An extract of the interview with Identità on the Road

15-01-2021
Giorgio Locatelli, born in Vergiate (Varese) in 19

Giorgio Locatelli, born in Vergiate (Varese) in 1963. In 2002 he opened Locanda Locatelli in London with his wife Plaxy. The following year he was awarded with one star (photo Getty Images). To register for IDENTITA' ON THE ROAD, click here (for info: iscrizioni@identitagolose.it or call +390248011841, ext. 2215)

Giorgio Locatelli is the protagonist of one of the most interesting videos for Identità on the road. The day we recorded he was at home in quarantine, because he was back from recording Masterchef Italia. The perfect situation to speak freely about cooking, restaurants and much more. We've extracted some of the most significant statements in the interview, directed by Paolo Marchi.

THE ORIGINS. Born in Corgeno, Varese, in 1984, at the age of 21, he was already away from home. «I was very passionate about travelling», he recalls, «I thought it was best to leave immediately to learn the job far away. Until the Eighties, you couldn't be considered a real chef unless you had acquired experience internationally, or had a French accent – which at the time was a real passe-partout. I chose London because I was in love with the story of Auguste Escoffier and with the Guide to Modern Cookery, my bible. He had built the myth of the Savoy, the hotel all my colleagues talked about when I was working at Genzianella in Corgeno [one Michelin star at the time]. So I decided to leave».

SWITZERLAND. «Before London, I cooked in Switzerland, at Mövenpick. It was a great experience, and Norbert Niederkofler was there with me. After 4-5 months they realised we were capable of cooking Italian food and they opened for us a restaurant that became very successful». But, as in the song by the Clash, London was calling: «I had nothing else in my mind. I wanted to go there not only for the food but also for the music and for the different lifestyle. When I arrived, it was as if a Pandora Box had opened».

With his wife Plaxy

With his wife Plaxy

The dining room at Locanda Locatelli

The dining room at Locanda Locatelli

THE DIFFICULTIES. «When I was very young, I used to work in a restaurant called Passatore. One day the cook told me: ‘You'll never become a chef’. I remember I went home to my grandmother's and cried. She comforted me: ‘What does he know what you will be in 10 years' time’. When I started at the Savoy it was hard because I was earning 87 pounds per week: in an Italian restaurant at the time I could have earned 135. But I was the only Italian in the kitchen, and this helped me a lot in my relationship with the clientele. Perhaps, however, the worst experience was in Paris, when I took on a new challenge as commis rôtisseur. The French told me I was a spaghetto who had learnt to cook from roast-beefs, that is to say from the English. Humiliations were a daily matter: the chef from Tour d’Argent never called me by my name in 18 months. From time to time, he would call me retard or even italiano di merda. At one point I told him I was leaving. He had the guts to ask me why. But I was determined, and I knew that a cook must leave when he decides, not when your employers tell you. Luckily this kind of dynamic is over these days, there's more respect».

ITALIAN WINE. At Locanda Locatelli the wine list has always been 100% Italian. «I never had any doubts. Gordon [Ramsey] once suggested to add some French wines, or else it would be hard to get a Michelin star. But I never gave up and the acknowledgement arrived all the same. Today Italian wine is very popular in London: you can see it from the shelves, how popular it's becoming. Until two decades ago there was only Italy in general. Now you must point out to which region that label belongs. The English are very fond of white wines from the north-east, and wines from the mountains. Supertuscan wines are always very popular. Prosecco is going very well and sells more than Champagne».


With Paolo Marchi chatting at Identità on the road. To register in the digital platform, click here (for info: iscrizioni@identitagolose.it or call +390248011841, ext. 2215)

With Paolo Marchi chatting at Identità on the roadTo register in the digital platform, click here (for info: iscrizioni@identitagolose.it or call +390248011841, ext. 2215)

DINING ROOM. Is the dining room very important for you? «As soon as we opened, we immediately removed the huge pepper grinder, which at the time was a popular stereotype for Italian restaurants. We tried to change the classic setting of the service, and to warm up the typical coldness of French service. I've always paid lots of attention to waiters: in their free time they must spend as much time as possible with the cooks, and they all must taste everything before the service. Our keyword is knowledge. And clients reward us for this».

VIPs. Among them, many VIPs, Locatelli explains in the interview: «When she's in London, Madonna always pays us a visit. I don't know why exactly. Perhaps for the calm of the restaurant, or because we've never promoted ourselves thanks to celebrities. We treat them like people».

And the discussion went on with Covid, Brexit and charities, shrewd thoughts we leave to the complete video recording. Which ends with a promise: «I hope to come soon to cook at your place, in Via Romagnosi». We hope so too.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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