Antonio Carluccio: "I spent £25,000 on a holiday in Bali" (2023)

What was your first job and how much did it pay you?

When I was 16 years old and still a student, I worked as a small crane operator in Italy. I earned a few shillings a day. Soon after, he was working for a family friend who was in charge of a hair oil factory. I have been selling to local barbers and it has been interesting to learn how to sell until I saturate the market.

How did your childhood influence your attitude towards money?

My parents didn't encourage me to be ambitious or teach me that money is important. I learned that the most important thing is the attitude of the heart. My father was a stationmaster where we lived in Piedmont. So we were able to travel first class all over Italy.

Dad was very smart: he never moved to a big city where he would be a little fish, but he stayed in a small town where he was the big shot, respected by the population. He would say that he has the ones who go to college who are specialized idiots and have no idea about life, and he has the ones who are into their own lives. I belong to the second group.

Was there a time when you worried about how you were going to pay the bills?

No. I had a good education so I knew I would be fine and if I didn't have a lot of money a brother or sister would help me and I would pay them back. That was the environment I grew up in. It was about collaboration and understanding, and I knew I could always do a good job.

When you were young, did you dream of making it big in the restaurant world?

No, I never wanted to build an empire. It all started when I entered a national cooking competition in 1981 because my ex-wife Priscilla wanted it, and I won first place.

The winning dish was the epitome of my MOF MOF philosophy: minimum effort, maximum flavor.

After winning, I left my job as a wine merchant to run Terence Conran's Neal Street restaurant and attracted media attention because of my love of mushrooms and because I am a tall, happy Italian. Carluccio's was founded in 1991 with my ex-wife and in 1998 we opened our first restaurant.

Why did you sell your stake in the company, for £10m, in 2005?

Because the contract I had with my investors said that we had to sell after five years. When it became public, we collected the money, it said me and my ex took £5m each, which is obviously good for five years, and I stayed on as an adviser. But my focus has always been philosophy.

It was the most rewarding time of my life financially, but I didn't let it go to my head.

You received an OBE in 2007. Is this your greatest achievement?

What makes a person proud? For some it's money or prizes, but for me it's about being successful and not letting that get you down. It's good that people appreciate what I do, but the pride comes from not following the star.

Some TV cooking shows suck because the chef wants everything to be about him. Many people need that ego boost, but I am, as the French say, "bien dans sa peau" - comfortable in my own skin.

Did you find Carluccio's success difficult to deal with?

Carluccio's gave me a headache at first because I looked like a brand. It wasn't nice to see my name there. When you see yourself as a brand, your value may increase financially, but relative to your own ego, your value decreases.

Today there are 95 branches, including abroad. How involved are you now?

I don't have it anymore, so I'm distancing myself from that, but I'm still a consultant. The business continues to go in the direction we initially wanted, creating something that is not elitist and that everyone can enjoy. Food prepared with the best ingredients, low prices, good service, in a pleasant atmosphere.

Are you a giver or saver?

a giver Money is for spending! A father could save for his children but if I had children he would try to give them a wonderful education and then let them mind their own business and not give them my money or they would never learn to survive.

What was your most extravagant purchase?

Two cases of wine I bought over 20 years ago as a birthday present for my ex-wife's grandchildren: one contained the fabulous French dessert wine Château d'Yquem and the other Château Cheval Blanc Magnums. Also, in the 1990s I spent my entire book advance, around £25,000, on a luxury holiday to Bali, staying in Amandari and Amankila. I don't have expensive hobbies; I used to smoke, but not anymore, and I pick my own mushrooms.

In his 2012 autobiography, he wrote:A recipe for lifethat you lost money gambling and call it "expensive escape". What did you play and how much did you lose?

I've lost thousands, but not tens of thousands, at roulette. If you want to enjoy the game, you have to be willing to lose. Intellectually it was interesting to need that kind of adrenaline. I wasn't addicted, but it was exciting to go to the casino, watch the ball spin and calculate the odds. You know they are three to one against you at the start.

I liked looking at people's faces while they played. I'm a kind of anthropologist and I could see the misery of an old woman who loses her pension. It can be devastating. Sometimes I would say to myself, wait a minute, are you addicted? He had no family and was relatively free. I was wasting my money.

Have you ever been misguided in financial matters?

Years ago a consultant told me to buy Rolls-Royce stock and I did just to make him happy. I didn't buy many but the company was weak and earning £3 in dividends so I sold. People try to get ahead all the time, so you have to be smart. I had to defend myself against cannibals: competitors or publishers.

What else have you invested in?

Proceeds from the sale of Carluccio's went to a boarding house. I leave control to my accountant and just watch the results. They can become obsessed with stocks, especially in America, where they study the ins and outs of companies while riding the elevator in the morning.

What's the most important lesson you've learned about money?

This article is about fame and fortune, but happiness to me means being alive and happy at 76, feeling young and having a positive moment in my life. that's luck. You cannot buy this.

Does money make me happy? NO! It can make a miserable life less miserable, but not necessarily amazing. When you have a lot of money, you worry about losing it, which can make you unhappy.

Do you have professional regrets?

Looking back, I wish I had developed a product that sold in large numbers, like my friend Ken Hom did with his woks. It's too late now. I always thought about making a sauce, preferably something that could compete with Tabasco. Something unique that everyone in the world must have.

How do you prefer to pay: cash, card or check?

I have three cards that I use all the time: Amex, Visa and a Bank of Scotland debit card and a checkbook. But I always have money in my pocket to pay for little things. Now I have €70 with me.

What type of typist are you?

I leave 10 units in addition to the 12 "discretionary" units already added. I'm quite generous, but it depends on the service. Because I'm a little known in the places I visit, I don't think I usually get bad service.

Do you donate to charity?

Yes. Just yesterday I met with The Clink Charity, who work with Clink Prison in London. I also work with an HIV charity, Prince's Trust, Children In Need and Action Against Hunger, who support Carluccio's.

• New book by Antonio CarluccioMassa', available now (Quadrille, £20)


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