Question time: You won't hear me swearing and shouting in the kitchen, says Antonio Carluccio. Unless someone wants spaghetti bolognese

You won't hear me swearing and shouting in the kitchen, says Antonio Carluccio. Unless someone wants spaghetti bolognese

You said you wanted to bring good Italian food to the high street. Have you made a difference?

Yes. When I came here in 1975 I found the situation a little bleak. There were some stereotypical trattorias, delivering stereotypical Italian food, and in many cases what I call Britalian food: chicken surprise was a favourite one where you'd open the chicken breast and a splash of butter would come out, or avocado with aurora sauce, which was mayonnaise and ketchup, very depressing. Since then, many things have changed.

The Brits eat a lot of pasta. Do we get it right?

The Brits eat an awful lot of wrong pasta. An example would be spaghetti bolognese, which doesn't exist in Italy. You wouldn't have bolognese, or a meat sauce, with spaghetti, it would be with tagliatelle. And the bolognese is never done with herbs, especially not oregano, which kills the entire thing. I long for better pizza. Pizza Express has improved things but Pizza Hut and Deep Pan Pizza are horrendous. The first thing I look at is the menu; if they can't write a menu without a mistake then the food won't be any good.

You sold your food chain in 2005. Why?

Because it was in the contract with all the other investors that we'd sell it after five years. We were very happy, we got some money, the success was there.

It was reported that you got £10m.

Yes, but when someone talks about £10m, once you have subtracted the tax and this and that, it's not that number any more. But we enjoyed it because it was hard-earned. In business you don't have to be too greedy.

How does it feel when you walk past a Carluccio's now?

A bit nostalgic. I am tempted to go in and check out the situation.

Have you been in?

Yes, many times. I buy bits and pieces there - good parmesan, a salami, pasta, rice, oils.

Do you miss having a restaurant?

I miss the magic of receiving guests and taking care of them. Seeing the restaurant happy is very touching.

Any plans to open another?

Not at the moment. I'm writing books and making TV programmes. I like to be connected to food.

What do you think of the food programmes on television?

Some of them are banal. They don't teach you anything. They are for voyeurs. Before, you had Ken Hom with Chinese food, Madhur Jaffrey with Indian, me with Italian, Rick Stein with fish ... now it's a mixture of everything. If you watch Masterchef, it's a concoction of all of that. Now you don't know how things will taste because they have strange combinations.

Restaurant kitchens are seen as high-pressure places, with lots of shouting and swearing. Is that how it has to be?

No, not at all. The quieter the kitchen the more successful. Obviously, the chef has to be in charge and sometimes he can get a bit nervous if something isn't right, but it should be free of all shouting, free of insults. Nobody has the privilege to insult others. Can you imagine in other jobs if the boss insulted people?

So your kitchen wasn't full of expetives?

No. Once I heard a word like that and I was very upset. Bad words are not necessary.

What do you think of the rise of the celebrity chef?

Some celebrities deserve to be where they are, some are made by TV. I'm against it when TV wants to make a celebrity out of someone who doesn't have the material. I like to be called a cook - I am passionate about cooking.

You're an ambassador of Italian food in exile. Do you often return?

My exile is self-imposed. I can look after Italian cooking better here than in Italy, but I go back quite often for business.

What is the most common mistake people make when cooking Italian food?

The biggest mistake is to believe that producing food is too complicated. Just bring a few ingredients together and try. And don't worry about wasting ingredients, they are never wasted unless you burn them, and then you have to throw it away. Another common mistake is to be nervous. But buy the best bread, the best salami, the best cheese and a good bottle of wine - the rest is about the company.

Are you happy at the moment?

Yes. Very tranquil, and happy doing my own thing. Life is very good. I have never felt healthier. My head is fine, my body is fine.

• Carluccio's new DVD Southern Italian Feast is released on 9 March. Pre-order at antonio-carluccio.com

Audio: Listen to Antonio Carluccio talking to Hannah Pool theguardian.com/audio

Contributor

Hannah Pool

The GuardianTramp

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