Exclusive Angela Hartnett interview.
A smile flickers across Angela Hartnett’s face as she thinks about the reasons that led to her becoming one of the UK’s best-loved and most respected chefs. The English restaurateur, who won her first Michelin star in 2004, grew up in a family which celebrated food. And not just any type of food, but Italian food – the tastiest pasta, the finest prosciutto, the creamiest mozzarella and most mouth-watering risotto. You could say that it’s in her blood.
“I was very fortunate that on my mother’s side they’re all Italian,” explains Angela as she takes a break from her busy schedule to chat with us in Café Murano, her restaurant in buzzing Covent Garden, in the heart of London’s theatreland.
“They emigrated over here after the First World War, so we were brought up on Italian food. It wasn’t as if we were ‘foodies’, you know, we had prosciutto, we ate fantastic pastas, we had anolini. We used to come up to Camisa in London to buy the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. That was our heritage and that’s how I got involved in Italian food.
“I ended up cooking all the time with my Italian grandmother, so we made all the pasta together, we made bread together. As a result I understood what Italian food was about and how you never over complicated it, you just kept it very simple and you let the ingredients sing.
“And I think that is the beauty of Italian food. When you’ve got such beautiful, tasty, delicious ingredients, you don’t have to mess around with them, just really use the best of the best.”
We’re in Café Murano to talk about Angela’s love of Prosciutto di San Daniele, and her tips and advice on Italian cooking, along with exclusive recipes, all of which are available on the Prosciutto di San Daniele Facebook page (click-through link here). She’s Chef Patron here, as well as at its sister restaurant, Café Murano St. James, and at her Michelin starred restaurant, Murano, in upmarket Mayfair.
She laughs when asked how she likes to eat Prosciutto di San Daniele and says: “I think the best way is just slice it on the slicer and put it straight in your mouth.” It’s a short and straightforward answer, but it speaks volumes about Angela’s belief in keeping things simple, in the kitchen and on the plate. Use the best ingredients you can and don’t over-complicate the food. She puts into practice the advice she learned as a young girl in her grandmother’s kitchen – to let the ingredients ‘sing’.
An example of this ethos is Angela’s recipe for Pea Rigatoni – peas in pasta with an emulsion of butter and Prosciutto di San Daniele on top. The first flavours you savour after taking that initial forkful are the perfectly-balanced sweet and salty notes of the prosciutto, even before you taste the pasta. It’s the perfect Italian dish – simple, tasty and made to be remembered.
“At Cafe Murano we try and keep it very seasonal and as authentically Italian as possible,” explains Angela. We try and really keep to the essence of it and I think people are now beginning to appreciate the essence of beautiful simple food.”
Angela started on her path to becoming a Chef Patron by learning on the job at a hotel in the English university town of Cambridge. But back then she never dreamed that her journey would lead her to working with famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing, or launching her own restaurant empire.
“I thought that I’d just have a little restaurant in the high street with mates. I never quite imagined the high street would be Covent Garden or Mayfair, but it seems to have worked out.”
With another restaurant in Courchevel, France; a partnership in Merchants Tavern, Shoreditch, plus best-selling cookbooks and numerous TV appearances to her name, she’s lived through a lot of changes in food over the years, from the nouvelle cuisine craze of the early-1980s to the renaissance of British comfort food (think spotted dick and jam roly poly with custard). So what is her take on food trends in the second decade of the millennium?
“I think these days heritage and the provenance of food is important. People want to know where their food comes from, they want to know which farmer produced those pigs that produced that ham, which guy made the cheese, you know, where the fruit came from. And you have Prosciutto de San Daniele that only comes from the Friuli region.
“And that’s where we have to be very definitive. It’s not really fair that some other sort of upstart comes along and says ‘oh, mine’s as good’ and there’s a reason it’s not as good, because you don’t have the heritage behind it.”
Sounds like the sort of thinking that Grandma would approve of!
*You can watch our full interview with Angela on our Prosciutto di San Daniele Facebook page.