Katie Caldesi on meeting Giancarlo, local producers and cooking on TV
PUBLISHED: 14:10 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:10 21 March 2019
Restaurateur Giancarlo met Katie, an artist, in 1997. He loved her painting, she loved his pasta. They now have two restaurants, a cookery school and two sons
Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi are the proud owners of Caffé Caldesi in London, Caldesi in Campagna in Bray, and also La Cucina Caldesi cookery school. Stepping into Caldesi in Campagna Italian restaurant in Berkshire you will feel right at home, with cosy tables tucked in alongside fireplaces, and the team are so warm and welcoming. Happy couple Katie and Giancarlo met in 1997…
So was it love at first sight?
Apparently it was for him! Giancarlo shook my hand when we first met and decided he was going to marry me. I took a little longer to be persuaded.
How did you both get to where you are now?
I took a degree in Theatre Design and became a painter. Giancarlo went to Hotel School and started work as a waiter after a spell in the army as a paratrooper. He became a restaurant manager and eventually opened his first restaurant in 1986. He commissioned me to paint a mural in his restaurant and 21 years and two sons later, the rest is history.
When Caffe Caldesi opened in 2002, how did you feel?
Giancarlo had two restaurants when I met him. Caffe Caldesi was a joint venture and it was inspired by a trip to the Honey Festival in Montalcino, Tuscany. I had dashed in to a wine bar in the castle to use the facilities. When I came out I told Giancarlo to come and see the bar; it was cosy, warm and the place was made from local wood. They sold antipasti on olive wood boards and local wine in bowl glasses.
We loved it, found out who had designed and made it, and employed the same person to create our bar and restaurant in London. We created our own antipasti boards and sold Italian wines by the glass. We still have the same bar 16 years later.
Tell me about your cookery schools in Tuscany and London, and classes in Bray
Our main cookery school building is in Marylebone behind our restaurant there. We take people for one-day classes either on our scheduled classes or in a group for a tailor-made class. We have our own teachers, Giancarlo and me, as well as visiting chefs. We specialise in Italian food, such as pasta-making, patisserie, antipasti, simple Italian suppers and plenty more.
Why Berkshire and Bray?
We were asked to be consultants to an Italian restaurant in Bray. We fell in love with the place and the owner asked us if we wanted to buy it. So we did and we are now in our 11th year at Caldesi in Campagna.
What do you love about the Royal county?
Apart from the beauty of the countryside, we love being in such a foodie village and have good relationships with the other restaurants around us. I love Marlow, Cookham and Henley, and have loved watching the ongoing transformation of Maidenhead. It will be interesting to see how Crossrail changes it further. We are excited about the opening of Monkey Island Estate hotel too.
Where do you get your produce?
From Italian Continental stores, local game estates, as well as specialist suppliers of Italian vegetables, cheeses and meats. We are always interested to hear about local producers, so please do get in touch.
Most romantic meal you’ve had?
In the San Pietro hotel overlooking Positano on the Amalfi Coast. My engagement ring had been mended and reset. Giancarlo had taken it with him on our travels there when we were writing a book about the recipes of the Amalfi coast. We had dinner at the hotel overlooking the sea, and it was incredibly beautiful. The waiter presented me with a silver dome for my first course. I thought it was odd as we hadn’t ordered anything at that point and I had no cutlery, but I thought perhaps it was a very fancy amuse-bouche. He lifted the dome, a musician appeared out of nowhere and started playing a violin. Inside was a tiny box with my ring inside. I started to cry and so did the other guests around us! Everyone clapped and we ate heart-shaped pizza from the wood-burning oven amongst many other delights.
Talk me through your cookbooks… anything new coming out?
We have completed a series of cookbooks about the regions of Italy, Amalfi, Rome, Venice, Sicily and Tuscany. It was fascinating to discover the differences between the regions. This year in May, our new book comes out about weight loss and reversing Type 2 diabetes. Both Giancarlo and I follow a low-carb diet and he has managed to lose 3.5 stone and is no longer diabetic. We are sharing our experience and have written it with two doctors and a nutritionist. It is packed with easy-to-understand science as well as nourishing and delicious recipes to encourage people to eat to save their health.
Do you watch all the cooking programmes on television? How do feel about being on them?
I sometimes watch Masterchef: The Professionals. I find being on live television terrifying before the event, but once I am on I actually really enjoy it. I’ve done the Omelette Challenge on Saturday Kitchen and I have been on Sunday Brunch, and it was great fun.
Have you ever had a disaster in the kitchen, or a funny moment?
I was in a cooking competition live on television. I got to the point of turning my frittata I had made upside down onto a plate. It dripped everywhere and caught fire on the gas hob. The Hairy Bikers and Brian Turner were on my team and I was so embarrassed! It was made worse by the fact it was on a big screen behind me so everyone could see. Not one of my finest moments!
Where do you go on holiday? Does the food sway your decision?
Anywhere where there is good food! Ideally somewhere where we have connections, so we have the chance to cook with the locals. I always carry a notepad and pen so I am ready to take down recipe ideas. It has all the thrill of a hunt for me.
What can we expect to see from you next?
I have started working with the Slough Food Bank and soon I will begin teaching on the Eat Well for Less programme with them. I am looking forward to using my experience and creativity to help people cook easily and economically. I have a lot to learn but am looking forward to the challenge. I would like to write a book to inspire and get people cooking who haven’t cooked before. It is too important that we don’t just rely on convenience and takeaway food.
caldesi.com | The Long & the Short of Pasta by Giancarlo Caldesi (£20, Hardie Grant)