At the launch of his new restaurant in Liverpool, Gino D’Acampo takes five with Louisa Castle
Known as the charismatic television chef, there is quite a buzz of excitement in the office when the exclusive interview offer with Signore D'Acampo comes through, his trails whilst filming Gino's Italian Escape: Hidden Italy fresh in our minds.
When I arrive he is just finishing filming and taking shots with the kids for his bambino menu, looking as if he is in his element and enjoying life, gelato in hand. Before he settles with me, he dashes off to check with the team how launch day is coming along and I watch as diners realise that the man himself is in the house and selfie requests abound. He is happy to oblige.
I am welcomed with a cheeky grin and a double cheek kiss and the interview begins. Gino compliments me on the cover of the latest issue, which in turn compliments the colours of the restaurant, so we are off to a good start.
My first question has to be about Gino D'Acampo My Restaurants, which are in partnership with the team at Individual Restaurants. The first was in Manchester three years ago , with a second in London Euston, followed by Leeds, Harrogate and now Liverpool and with two more launches this year.
"It's all about experiencing proper Italian dining, how we do it in Italy, not a poor copy. It should be relaxed and colourful... slightly loud and it should embrace the family. For me, it's about sharing and living life and that's what we are doing with the restaurants. We want people to spend four or five hours here and enjoy it.
"Here, it is a big site so we have the Prosecco bar, grocery store, mezzanine, terrace and bullion room downstairs. I don't know if you know but this used to be an old bank and the bullion room or games room is actually in the vault where they used to keep things locked away. It's a fabulous space."
Gino's passion is evident as I rush to scribble down and capture his language and sentiments. "We change the menu seasonally and I go to Italy to see where we get the salami or mozzarella. It is important for me to know the whole story from the olives in front of us to the glasses and plates." I can say that the former, from Tavoliere in Puglia, are deliciously sweet for green olives, if a little inelegant to eat as I am trying to retain some sense of cool while interviewing.
It is at this point that the interview turns from less of an interview and into more of a conversation over Saturday lunch. Gino is open and charming, with a sparkle of mischievousness but not when we are talking about food: that is all business, albeit very passionate and animated business.
His love of food comes from his grandfather. Gino would work in his grandfather's restaurant in Italy from about the age of nine and that, as they say, was that, coming to England in his late teens. "London was the international capital of food then so it made sense for me to build my career here. Now, Manchester is very much the cosmopolitan foodie scene, but then it was London. Plus, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, Jessica, my wife.
"It is a very happy place for me. I love the British humour and work ethic. If you want something enough and you want to work hard you will achieve it. The people are amazing too.
"My proudest moment in business has to be opening my first restaurant [In his personal life it is becoming a father]. It was a magical experience. I have arrived at a point where I can pay all my bills and look after my family so I am being self-indulgent, I know, in wanting to go from five restaurants to seven, then nine. I have a responsibility too, to the employees and team who have been with me for such a long time.
"I am grateful to everyone and everything that has happened in my life. Even the tough times. They have made me stronger and the person I am today. I am wiser and better for it."
I raise the idea of taking things easier and relaxing. It doesn't go down well. "I am 41! Retirement would kill me. Plus, I think my wife wouldn't know what to do with me!" So I rephrase the question. Gino laughs.
"I love holidays. I should be on holiday right now. I love fishing and being on the boat with my family and my guitar. Music is important to me and I choose the playlists for the restaurants, taking you from breakfast through to late evening. My own playlist? Well at the moment I love John Mayer, Noel Gallagher and a bit of AC/DC, the Beatles – obviously. And who can resist a bit of Rod Stewart?!
"I am a big fan of the old Italian style, the Vespas and styling of the ’60s and ’70s and old movies. I am really sorry but my favourite has to be The Godfather; classics like that, you can't beat them."
And what of cooking at home? "I love eating simple food. It doesn't matter what type, it could be Chinese or it could be Italian. I don't want to waste too much time either. It should always be about the ingredients and they should be the star of the show."
With that, our star of the show has a full afternoon ahead of him and a very busy restaurant.