HE'S known as Jamie Oliver's 'London dad' and now Gennaro Contaldo has just republished his autobiographical cookbook, Gennaro's Passione.

The bubbly 68-year-old is universally loved by all the chefs he trains at Jamie's Italian restaurants around the globe, and most of all by his protege, Jamie himself.

"Oh my God, does Jamie do more than me, he goes round and round and round. He's always in touch. At the end of the day, we are cooks, more than anything else. We love cooking."

It's this passion for cooking and good food that Gennaro extols in his cookbook Passione ("kind of my biography"), named after the restaurant he ran in London in the early-noughties. First published in 2003 - "that book put me on the map" - it's now been lovingly updated with stories and photos from Gennaro's childhood growing up on Italy's Amalfi Coast.

"I realised how beautiful it was when I left it. After two, maybe three years, I went back and when I reached my village [Minori], everything was ever so small and it was strange," says the chef, who first left home to find his fortune in England as a young man of 20.

In the books, he calls it a "free-range" childhood. The family had no fridge, so everything had to be fresh and they ate with the seasons. His father, a linen merchant, brought animals home he'd been given as payment by local farmers and did most of the cooking, while his mother, who he affectionately calls 'a white witch', sent him out to collect herbs from the mountains, which sparked a lifelong love of foraging.

"Imagine, come 12 o'clock, you go home through the small alleyways and all the balconies are open and you can hear the crockery and you can smell everything and you can pinpoint... fresh pasta with beans, grilled fish, cooked meat... Nothing came from far away, everything in season."

When he first arrived in London, Gennaro worked as a kitchen porter for a hospital, to get a permit, and eventually ended up at his good friend Antonio Carluccio's Neal Street Restaurant, where he met and mentored Jamie Oliver, before branching out on his own and opening Passione.

He left the restaurant three years before it closed in 2009, a victim of the recession, to collaborate with Jamie on the Jamie's Italian chain.

"He is [like a son], he's got exactly the same - even more - love, and cares and respects food and people, which is so important.

"I look up to him. My God, he can do it. And we film quite a lot, me and Jamie, we film a new programme which will come out next year. We go round Italy, meet all these beautiful Nonnas [grandmothers] and try to discover these beautiful, almost lost recipes."

He has five of his own children, two with his current partner, and three from his previous marriage, and he's not about to hang up his apron anytime soon.

"This is what's keeping me alive," he says earnestly. "I have days when I think I'm too tired, but the minute I walk inside the kitchen, I feel 25."

Here are three of his favourite recipes from the book for you to try at home.


Gennaro Contaldo loves to cook with baby chickens (aka poussins) because, he says, they are "much more tender than a fully matured one".


(Serves 2-4)

  • 2 baby chickens (poussins), boned (ask your butcher to do this for you)
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the filling:

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2tbsp capers
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • 2tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Needles from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • A handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • For the sauce:
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Needles from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 120ml white wine
  • 120ml cider vinegar
  • 1/2tbsp sugar
  • 1tbsp capers
  • Scattering of fresh parsley, to serve (optional)


1. First make the filling by placing all the ingredients in a mortar and pounding them with a pestle until you obtain a pulp.

2. Open up each baby chicken like a butterfly and place skin-side down on a chopping board. Spread the filling evenly over the flesh side, then fold the poussin back over and secure the opening with wooden toothpicks, weaving them in and out. Season all over with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the chickens, then reduce the heat slightly and cook until golden brown on all sides. Cover the pan and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until the chickens are cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Place the garlic and rosemary in a mortar and pound with a pestle. Add the wine, vinegar, sugar and capers, and mix well.

4. Turn up the heat under the chickens, add the sauce and simmer until reduced by half, stirring all the time. Arrange on a plate and pour over the sauce. Serve immediately, scattered with parsley, if wished.



(Serves 4)

  • 2 large fresh crabs (ask your fishmonger to prepare for you and reserve the shells)
  • 175ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 fresh raw king prawns, shell on
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced lengthways
  • 2 red chillies, sliced lengthways into strips
  • 2 handfuls of fresh parsley leaves
  • 250ml white wine
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters, to serve
  • Slices of bread, to serve
  • Salt


1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the prawns and cook for one minute over a high heat. Turn them over and cook the other side for another minute.

2. Add the garlic, chillies and crab chunks, season with salt, then reduce the heat and cook for two minutes with the lid on.

3. Add the parsley, increase the heat and pour in the wine and any reserved juices from the crab. Bubble until evaporated, then serve immediately, with lemon quarters and lots of bread to mop up the juices.



(Serves 4)

  • 300g fresh broad beans (shelled weight)
  • 300g cherry tomatoes, quartered and deseeded
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to serve
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 20 fresh basil leaves, plus a few extra to garnish
  • 1/2 red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
  • 300g spaghetti
  • 100g mild goat's cheese, diced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Blanch the broad beans in a large saucepan of lightly salted boiling water for one minute, drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. Slip the skins off the broad beans and set aside.

2. Put the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, chilli (if using) and some salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Then stir in the broad beans and leave to marinate while you cook the pasta.

3. Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain and add to the tomato and broad bean mixture, together with the goat's cheese. Mix well and serve immediately, sprinkling some freshly ground black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a few basil leaves on top of each portion.

n Gennaro's Passione: The Classic Italian Cookery Book by Gennaro Contaldo is published in hardback by Pavilion, priced £20.