Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to cook, I love to collect recipes and cookbooks and I love good food!! It is easy to tell, isn't it!!
On Tuesday - I got to do both, but in the presence of greatness. Chef Antonio Carluccio is charming, chatty, chivalrous and cheeky! Yup. He started off (I was the first one there - damned British time-keeping) by telling me he was for hire. He said that he has been married three times and divorced three times, so now he is only for hire! As my eyebrows shot to my hairline and all the blood pumped straight to my cheeks! I suggested he tell all the lovely ladies who were due any minute!
Okay - let's back up a bit! Last week I got a call from gorgeous Chef Rajesh at the Park Hotel, an elegant 5* establishment that prides itself on cooking good food and presenting it really well. You may have read about the place in my previous blogs. We spend rather too much time in that place! He called to ask if I had heard of Antonio Carluccio. I double checked that he meant the world class chef and not some fisherman from Kerala with coincidentally the same name! (call me cynical but I have lived here for 8 years ... I KNOW what to expect!) After all tests were passed, he went on to say that the man himself would be in Chennai for a couple of days, and would I be interested in meeting him. We went on to talk about a cooking demo and I got to work sending out one simple text message and one email. Within a few minutes - the 'yes' screams that flew back into my phone and inbox could probably have been heard in New York!
I realised this was going to be bigger than either of us had expected and wehad to put an immediate limit on the numbers and I even turned away several people ...boooo!
My Darling and I met Chef Antonio on Sunday whilst having brunch at the Park (where else!!?) and he turned out to be humble, charming and witty. He even spent quite some time with Nikh giving him some good advice about cooking, restaurants, following dreams and becoming a chef. Nikh listened diligently and then shot off to play (highly irritating, pointless game) Dak Chi. We talked for a few more minutes, I begged him to make Tiramisu at the demo and feeling hyper from talking with a great, famous celeb (those who know me also know what a corny groupie I am!!), I went off to have a green tea and calm down. Even My Darling was in awe!
I was on tenterhooks waiting for Tuesday - it was like waiting for Christmas morning! All the ladies came trooping in, with big grins and high expectations and I started to get a little nervous - what if it all went pear shaped!? Uh oh!
Worrying for nothing! The man immediately flirted and charmed every woman in the room by saying how much he loves ladies - not men (emphasised!) only ladies! He insisted that he is not a CHEF but a COOK. He said that chefs do a job and make money. Cooks cook because they love to cook. They have passion, he said ( I don't think he was entirely talking about in the kitchen - if you get my drift...nudge, nudge, wink, wink ...say no more!!) that chefs simply don't.
Once he started to get his hands dirty, the crowd was silently awestruck! He made sauteed marinated sardines, he made a chicken dish where the chicken had been cut like an octopus's tentacles. The main course was an aubergine parmigiana and a raviolo (one big round version of a ravioli) filled with spinach, ricotta cheese and finished with one egg yolk dolloped in the middle of the well before sealing the pasta and cooking for a few minutes. It was a bit like ravioli with poached egg inside. And finally the piece de resistance (sorry don't know the Italian for that, only the French!!) his world famous Tiramisu. Aaaaagh! Ooooooh!
He added the liqueur to the coffee, added the cream and sugar to the mascarpone cheese and started dipping the sponge into the liquid before layering with the cream. Refusing to 'gild the lilies' with the beautiful chocolate shapes Chef Santosh had so lovingly crafted, he offered up the sweet concoction to be savoured, mouth wateringly from a distance!
Lots of smiling ladies applauded, took umpteen photos and dashed into the next room to taste the cooking! The ensuing silence spoke volumes!
In among the excitement and enjoyment of the morning, my heart was heavy. Nikh, my budding chef, was really very upset and disappointed that I MADE him go to school instead of allowing him to come with me to this once in a lifetime opportunity. I have to say that listening to Chef Carluccio segue his jokes from 'tits in soup' to 'child of a Mafia don writing to Baby Jesus' and blackmailing him with Mother Mary's abduction to a 'pair of fleas sunning themselves on the Cote d'Azur' having travelled there on various unmentionable parts of the male and female anatomy, I was bone-meltingly grateful that my parenting instinct, that school is all important, had come to the fore!
I was forgiven as the next evening, Nikh was having dinner with friends (guess where!!) and who should still be training chefs? Who allowed Nikh and his friends to participate? Who offered them a taste of Tiramisu and Sicilian tomato and stale bread salad? Who became a hero and a demi-god in one fell swoop for allowing these children to help him roll out his handmade pasta? Who gave them autographs and photo opportunities until they were satisfied?
Saucy, Sweet Chef Antonio Carluccio!!
These couple of days will go down in my all time memory of special, special moments in our lives!