Popular celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo recently returned to Newcastle to launch his new autumn-winter menu. Savour editor, Georga Spottiswood, caught up with him about what customers can expect, how he’s adapting to the challenges of the cost-of-living crisis and his new book and TV series.
You’re back in Newcastle to promote your new autumn/winter menu, tell us more about what customers can expect to see on it.
It’s very different from spring and summer. Different look, feel, colours, different technical cooking because of course in spring and summer everything is more colourful, you cook less because everything is fresh. Winter is the opposite. We cook for longer, slow-cooked beef, pork that has been cooked for eight hours.
The pasta dishes have changed, we have wild mushroom risotto; tagliatelle with sausage, porcini mushrooms and cream. For the meat, we have slow-cooked beef like we do in the North of Italy, and pork belly like we do in the South of Italy.
What’s the inspiration behind the dishes on the new menu?
Mainly it’s the travel. I spend six months of my life in Italy, and I pick up all the things that I need to do. This year it will be all about Cucina Povera (poor man’s cuisine), which is pretty much what Italian food is all about: pasta, pizza, and risotto. Something you can cook with non-expensive ingredients. That will be the theme, with all these shenanigans happening: war, gas, Brexit, we won’t have any other choice.
Gino’s Italy is now on ITV and you recently released a new book: Gino’s Italy: Like Mamma Used To Make, in honour of all the women in your life. Who does it honour and why?
I have always wanted to do a book to dedicate to the women in my life. When I say women, I mean my mum, who is no longer with us, my grandmother, and my auntie. My mum used to have nine sisters and one brother. When I grew up, instead of playing football like every other boy would do, I was eternally in the kitchen surrounded by women – which is my favourite thing ever.
I find women very interesting; I can spend all night talking to women, but do not ask me to spend all night talking to men. Women intrigue me more; they have something that I like. So, I just wanted to say thank you. 50% of those recipes are not mine, they’re from my mum, my grandmother. I relooked at it, as there are a lot of things that they could get in Italy that you can’t get here, so I adjusted it that way.
It always looks like you’re having a lot of fun on your Insta and on the TV shows. Are you filming anything new?
I have just finished filming a show called Cooking Up Love for ITV. I built a cookery school on the island of Sardinia, for single people – and I coupled them up to find love. I can’t tell you any more! It will be released in December on ITV as a two-hour special. It was a social experiment that I did. It was very good to see.
The last time we caught up, we chatted about the issues hospitality was facing (in relation to covid). Now it’s taking a battering from another angle, with the cost-of-living crisis – how are you finding things?
We went from a frying pan straight on top of a grill – without any break. It’s not easy. The challenges we face are the massive expenses in the restaurant, we set it up where we work everything beautifully: we work to a profit and the profit we make we use to invest in the restaurant – better ingredients, investing in the people, the staff. If you start to take the profit away, you not only run the risk of closing the restaurant (we run at a lesser risk as we have been going a long time), but we don’t go forward, that’s the problem.
We are lucky, we are busy, but how long we can do that for, I don’t know – yes, the next two or three years but after that? The positive is this: those people that have rubbish Italian restaurants, where they have never done anything, where they take the p**s out of customers serving s**t Italian food and they pretend to be good, those businesses will not be able to survive, so they will be out of my way.
People who used to go to those restaurants will start to think ‘ok, we will now go to Gino’s’, and the trick that we have done with our autumn-winter menu is to give it a wider range of prices, Yes, we have pasta with lobster that costs £30 but we also have penne arrabbiata with costs £10. We are giving everybody a chance to visit us.
And the trick that we have done with our autumn-winter menu is to give it a wider range of prices, Yes, we have pasta with lobster that costs £30 but we also have penne arrabbiata with costs £10. We are giving everybody a chance to visit us.
You invested a lot of money during covid and expanded with new restaurants, how have they been doing?
We have one in Manchester, one in Leeds and more in the pipeline! The next one will be the biggest Italian restaurant in Manchester.
Steven Walker is my business partner. I come up with an idea, I’m like a child with Santa Clause. I want the BIGGEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT. He says, ‘what do you mean by that?’.
I want you to search for all the Italian restaurants in Manchester – and I want ours to be the biggest!
What’s the biggest? 150 covers, I want 200 covers. One floor. I want three floors! That’s what I do, I go in a tantrum and unless he says, ‘I’ll do it’, I don’t stop.
Blink and it’ll be Christmas! What can people expect from the Christmas offering at Gino’s Newcastle?
We try to keep it traditional but not traditional as we know it. There is always an Italian twist in my restaurants or an Italian way to do it. In the last 15 years, we haven’t made huge changes: it’s the way the sauce changes, the ingredients change, and where we get the turkey from. So, we keep it traditional.
Tell us how the D’Acampo’s spend their Christmas.
On the island of Sardinia – and we don’t eat turkey! None of us like turkey. We have seabass, lots of seafood, lobster, pork, and loads of antipasti. Our Christmas lunch goes into dinner. We sit down at about 12.30pm, my wife, my kids and everybody and we get up from the table at about 10 O’clock at night. We do between 15 and 20 courses.
And who cooks? You or you wife, Jessica?
My wife doesn’t like to cook fish. I do the fish and the meat, my wife does the vegetables, desserts and the antipasti. Rocco cooks the fish with me, Luciano likes to cook the meat with me and Mia does whatever with her mum.
How is the family? Is Luciano still working in the business? And Rocco?
Rocco is in his last year of school. He can do whatever makes him happy. He can come and work in the business when he finishes school. If he doesn’t like it, he can go to uni.
Luciano is still in the business, and he is doing really well. He’s on top of everything, it’s incredible considering he is 20 years old. He’s been so wise and so clever about everything.
And Princess Mia?
Endlessly Tik Tok dancing! I told her I was going to Newcastle and she said, ‘OK, you can go.’ Like she allows me to go! ‘But I’m going to prepare a new Tik Tok dance for when you get home.’
Every week there’s a new Tik Tok dance. She can’t even put them up because she’s too young and by the time she’s old enough she’s going to have 200 Tik Tok videos which are years old.
If you could have one present in the world for Christmas, what would it be and why?
I think this Christmas I will ask Santa, please mate, can we just go back to normal – like it was 5-6 years ago? I think it’s time for everybody to have a bit of normality. Since covid, it’s just been nonsense.
What are your plans for 2023 in business?
We’re extending the range with Asda. We have just launched the Gino cookware which is going really well. I have been working for the last year and a half on this and I am really proud of this cookware range. And Gino’s Pizza Oven – we’re going to launch a pizza oven.
To find out more about Gino’s new menus or to book, visit: ginodacampohotelsandleisure.com