Giorgio Locatelli. Chef & restaurateur

Q. Your new book is called Made in Sicily. What drew you to the island?
A. I’ve been fascinated by Sicily since I was a little boy. I grew up in northern Italy, on the shores of Lake Comabbio and learnt about Sicilian mythology at school. I read lots of books about the island and was especially fascinated by the Mafia. However, life got in the way and I didn’t get round to going there until 17 or 18 years ago.

Q. And was the reality able to live up to your youthful expectations?
A. It was even more wonderful than I imagined. Now my wife, Plaxy, my two kids, Jack and Margherita, and I go there every summer. Catania is incredibly pretty – the most beautiful city in Europe, in my view. You wander away from the main piazza, turn a corner and – bam! – there’s the most amazing baroque church in front of you. It’s so unspoilt, it’s like travelling back in time.

Q. What would you say is the difference between the cuisine of the north and south of Italy?
A. Sicily was defined by the influence of its invaders, especially the Greek and the Spanish, so its flavours are different. Another reason is that, in the north, the temperature falls below zero every night for three months, whereas, in the south, it is rarely cooler than 15 degrees even in winter, so the ingredients that are available and the way people eat is different. Despite the fact that poverty was widespread until the Fifties and some of them still lived in the caves till the Sixties, there is a natural generosity about the southern Italians and a pride in displaying their traditions through food.

Q. Can you relax and forget about cooking on holiday or is it still all about the food?
A. It’s not just about the food! I do other things. I’m not the kind of guy who goes to the beach, but I do swim first thing every day. I spend the rest of the morning visiting the markets, making a simple pasta or a panino for lunch…

Q. So, it is all about the food. Is that because, with amazing ingredients, you can make simple dishes that taste incredible?
A. Yes! That’s what it’s all about. My grandparents had a restaurant and I’ve been cooking since I was five – I used to stir the béchamel sauce standing on an upsidedown beer crate. I was always taught that a chef imposes his creativity on a dish, but, in Sicily, you just assist nature to develop itself on the plate.

Q. Were you a wellbehaved kid?
A. I was a bit wild – I was OK in the kitchen, but banned from the restaurant dining room from the age of six.

Q. What’s the best thing anyone has ever said about your food?
A. The biggest compliment a customer can pay is to return to the restaurant.

Q. When, in many years’ time, you contemplate retirement, will you consider moving to Sicily?
A. I love the island and am now producing olive oil there. But I think I’ll follow the shining example of my grandfather. At 85, he was still active in the kitchen, with his family around him. I have a vision of myself as an octogenarian, still cooking, and perhaps still enjoying a few glasses of champagne with my meal, too. That sounds pretty good to me.

Q. And what would you eat for your last supper on this earth?
A. White truffle risotto. I’d cook it myself. Of course! No question.

Giorgi o Locatelli ’s love of food was initially inspired by his grandmother and then by his uncle Alfio, who ran a Michelin-starred restaurant on the shores of Lake Comabbio. In London he worked at the Savoy and Zafferano before opening Locanda Locatelli in 2002 with his wife Plaxy. Made in Sicily (£30) is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut book, Made in Italy. locandalocatelli.com