In eager anticipation of Gino opening his new restaurant in Harrogate, Excelle talks exclusively to the man himself to find out more!
What’s new in the world of Gino?
It’s very busy! We’re working on the new restaurant here in Harrogate, which should be open in June. So now is that really busy time where we’re having to check, and double check everything. We’re really just making sure everything we’ve designed is going into place, as I wanted it. It’s such an exciting time, I can’t wait!
With the new restaurant in Harrogate and the Leeds one you opened before Christmas, you’re becoming a true Northerner! How are you finding it?
I love the North. It’s the opposite way to Italy, you Northern people are like our Southern Italian people – you’re all so friendly, and family orientated and make the most amazing food. If I had to choose to only open restaurants in the North or the South, it would be an easy choice! Only the North, despite the traffic on the M6!
And why Harrogate?
I prefer little towns to big cities, it has a much more personal touch. The community spirit is amazing; my next-door neighbour already offered me a bottle of Prosecco! I visited Harrogate 7 years ago with my wife, on another beautiful sunny day and we were sat in the little Piazza (Valley Gardens) and I just thought, ‘this is amazing, one day I will open a restaurant here’. I remember that, and I’m a man who keeps his promises, so here we are!
Has cooking always been a passion for you?
Well I do other things apart from cooking! Not many people know that, but I also play the guitar. I think I’ve always wanted to be in a rock band, so maybe I’ll start playing in the restaurants! I can do 15/20 songs, that’s got to be enough. Really though, cooking has always been my thing since I was a little boy. My grandfather was a chef and I was always fascinated that 2 or 3 ingredients could be made into something delicious. I cook to relax, and it doesn’t stress me out. Even in the restaurants, I’m always in the kitchen telling the boys what to do.
So you stay quite involved with the restaurants then?
I think I’m more involved than people would like me to be, I can be a bit of a pain. You see the chefs rolling their eyes a little bit, they can’t wait for me to go! But when a business is so personal, for me it doesn’t matter if I have 1 restaurant or 20, it’s personal and each restaurant is me. You can always, always, find little faults or things that make you think, ‘yes, we’ll change that’. I just love the restaurants.
For anyone visiting a Gino Restaurant, what is the one thing everyone should try on the menu?
Okay so for Pizza, everyone should try the real Neapolitan pizza, with Italian sausage, friarielli. Buffalo mozzarella and chilli. This is a staple in Napoli, with proper Italian ingredients. So that’s the pizza you should all try.
For pasta we make the best, and I mean the best linguine with clams ever. It’s a beautiful tomato and chilli sauce, and you get clams, calamari, mussels, prawns and Scottish langoustine; it’s stunning, you’ll love it.
If you don’t eat seafood, we make tagliatelle with traditional Italian sausage, cream and Pecorino cheese.
For any vegetarians, our Orecchiette with friarielli, pine nuts, chilli and cherry tomatoes is simply the best.
And if you have room for a pudding, I make a seriously good panna cotta, the way us Italians intended it. You’re making me so hungry, we’ve been so busy and I’ve not eaten all day!
If you had to give up either pizza or pasta, what would you choose?
If I have to, like really have to… it would be pizza. I just love pasta, it’s so versatile and easy to make. With pizza you need to make the dough, which isn’t easy, Pasta is so much more for everyone. But I really don’t want to give up anything! For me, it’s like being asked to give up one of your children! In fact that’d be an easier question, I’ll give up the most expensive one and keep the pasta and pizza!
Finally, what does the future look like for you?
Well first off we’re concentrating on the opening in Harrogate so that’s a busy time. But then, I have a live tour through April and May (Gino’s Italian Escape – Live on Stage) so for Yorkshire, we’ll be in Sheffield on May 2nd, and York on May 4th. Then I have a new book – Gino’s Healthy Italian for Less. So I’m putting together healthy recipes for the family, all under £5. I’m focussing on non-expensive ingredients but great tasting food.
After that we’ll be filming for Gino’s Italian Escape, launching the next restaurant in Liverpool and working on a new book this summer. So we’ll be doing signings in Sheffield and Hull. I actually love Hull! I heard that it’s City of Culture, and it’s a lot prettier than it gets credit for. Yorkshire is just the best, I think I’ll need to get myself a flat cap!