Hi Gino! What do you make of our food in Britain?
“I love British people and love British food, because I come from Naples, a little town in the south of Italy, that’s narrow-minded. No, it’s true! We put our noses into other people’s business, we’re jealous of our neighbours, we always think we know best… I remember the first time I came to London I thought you guys were the best in the world. You live and let live, you’re open-minded, you give people chances. I’m the first to defend Brits if I hear anyone knocking them because you guys are the best.
“And your food! I get annoyed with British chefs banging on about Italian or French cuisine, instead of showing off great British fare like your pies, puddings, roasts and fish and chips.”
So we guess that you enjoy living here in the UK?
“I am Italian. My heart is in Italy, my home is in Italy and I’m Italian in the way I dress, eat and love, but in the meantime I enjoy living in this fabulous country. Even the weather doesn’t bother me any more. I was in Italy in 40-degree heat last week and couldn’t wait to come back to your fresh air!”
Well, the British public love you! After all, they crowned you King of the Jungle two years ago in I’m A Celebrity…
“That again shows how great British people are – letting an Italian win the show. I never dreamed I’d have such success on TV as it was never an ambition of mine. To think I’ve done Ready Steady Cook, This Morning, Lunch with Gino & Mel, been King of the Jungle and have written three cookbooks – well, whoever’s dream I’m living, I love it!”
What did food mean to you growing up?
“I vividly remember being eight and seeing my grandfather make gnocchi out of potatoes, a bit of flour, some egg and tomato sauce and then serve it to 20 of us, making everyone smile and laugh. To me, that was magic, he was an artist. I wanted to be the same.
“I have some happy but mostly sad memories of my childhood, of my mum and dad shouting, and plates flying around. But food took me away from that. Just making a plate of pasta, creating something for 20 minutes, took my brain to its own fantasy world.
How did you meet your wife of 10 years, Jessica?
“It was definitely not love at first sight. Jessica was waitressing and had a big personality which used to annoy me when I was hot and bothered in the kitchen. We argued a lot. But we fell in love in the meat fridge! I used to go in there to cool down and she did the same and eventually, between the chicken and fillet steaks we fell in love. You don’t think that’s romantic? Listen, it’s easy to fall in love in the sun; if you manage it in the freezing cold, you’ve cracked it!”
In the 90s, you spent 10 months in prison for burgling singer Paul Young’s house…
“I didn’t use my best judgement and made a serious mistake. It was a dreadful experience, but in life I’ve learned to make good come out of everything. I thought, ‘This is not going to drag me down, this is going to make me a better man.’ So I came out of prison a man with a plan, determined to set up a business importing Italian ingredients. And once again saw how great this country is because everything allowed me to make my fresh start. People said, ‘You made a mistake – we all do, show me what you’re capable of and move on.’ I got the business up and running and then TV came calling and I was offered guest spots on Great Food Live, Saturday Cooks, This Morning… you name it.
“The point is, food saved me again. It always has and still does; it’s a constant for me. Whenever I’m upset, or have an argument with Jess or a friend is unwell and I’m sad, I head for the kitchen. Since I was eight years’ old food has been my god and always saved the day!”