Interview: Theo Randall & Italian Cuisine

Oh So London was invited to meet Theo Randall this week at ASK Italian in Spring Street, Paddington. While tucking in to delicious panzerottinis and antipasti, we chatted to Theo about his love for Italian cuisine. He revealed his favourite London foodie spots, why he rejects the swirls and schmears of the cheffing world and how he’s improved ASK Italian’s menu…

Oh, and what his last supper would look like. Any guesses?

Theo Randall interviewWe know your passion for Italian food stems from childhood trips to Italy. What are some of your fondest food memories from this time? Food memories stay with you forever. I remember going to an Italian pizzeria as a child, and it was the first time I’d had an authentic Italian pizza. There was this amazing smell of smoke from the woodfire, there were chefs throwing the pizza dough and then there were waiters carrying about six plates at the same time. When this huge pizza then arrived on the table, I remember thinking it was the most amazing thing I’d ever experienced. The authentic Italian pizzeria is so theatrical and the Italians are so proud of what they do. As a kid I was amazed. I don’t have an Italian bone in my body but I do have an Italian soul (as cheesy as it may sound!) And I like to give that same passion to ASK Italian.

How do the regions of Italy vary in terms of cooking style? All the regions have certain ingredients which are in abundance in that area and so translate into their recipes. Some regions of Italy have never heard of pesto but what they all have in common is using the produce they have locally – an excellent example of the whole slow food movement. They’ve been doing it for years.

You worked at London’s River Cafe for 16 years before launching Theo Randall at The Intercontinental. Why did you decide to go against the fine dining of Park Lane and offer more simple, fuss-free food? If you eat authentic Italian food in the trattorias of Italy, you can see they don’t muck things around. They keep it very simple. Ingredients can look beautiful without doing all these swirls on the plate. It’s not really what I like in food. I like purity in food. I like to taste the food and I like simplicity. Slice a tomato and put some olive oil on it with salt and pepper and it’s the most delicious thing. Why take the tomato and cook it in all these different ways to make it taste like tomato again? I like to keep its natural flavour, use good produce and keep it uncomplicated and I feel it works.

Theo Randall Ask ItalianHow would you describe your menu at Theo Randall, The Continental? It’s seasonal, it’s presented in a very Italian way with the antipasti, primi and secondi course, and we really get some of the most amazing ingredients. We get fish from all over the coast. At the moment we’ve got seabass, turbet, scallops, monkfish, langoustine and squid – all these wonderful fresh fish which come in every day. And the philosophy is keeping it simple and true to the ingredient.

How many times do you visit Italy each year? I go about six times a year. Often we go for research trips but I’m off to Puglia this week as a holiday and I love eating out and getting inspiration. I’m the first one who’s up and at the market buying all the freshest vegetables. And as long as I’ve got all the ingredients first thing, I can enjoy the rest of the day. It sounds ridiculous, but I just love cooking while on holiday. And with no pressures of the restaurant, I almost enjoy cooking more on holiday – you can experiment with new ingredients.

Do you think you can eat an Italian diet and still be healthy? The Italian diet is a healthy diet. If you look at it there’s a lot of carbohydrate in terms of pizza and pasta but you obviously have to approach everything in moderation. In some ways, the sharing element is a nice way of eating. You can have a bit of antipasti and then a salad, and then some pizza and it’s perhaps a healthier way of eating. The idea of sharing is also central to the ethos at ASK which I love.

What did you set out to achieve when you became the ‘expert friend’ at ASK Italian? I wanted to get the food up to a good standard and inspire the team with some great food ideas. We have regular meetings about the food, what the customers want and how to take our food to the next level. Since I joined the menu and the restaurant design have come a long way. And my greatest achievement is that the team is passionate about what they do. 

Do you like to pick up any particular food trends in London? I like food trends but I get inspiration from everything. It could be reading a food book, eating out or observing methods in any kind of cuisine. But I also have some excellent food suppliers – Natoora – who keep me updated with what’s in season and bring over produce from Italy for me. So a particular variety of ingredient could inspire me in itself. A lot of my food inspiration comes from visits to Italy and seeing how they do it there.

La Fromagerie MaryleboneDo you have any favourite foodie spots in London you like to go to? Yes, anyone coming to London has to check out Borough market – it’s a very inspiring place. Also Marylebone high street is a very food-orientated area. There’s a really great farmer’s market on a Sunday and a really great cheese shop called La Fromagerie. They do incredible cheese. Visiting that shop is an inspiration in itself.

Until next time x

Theo Randall, ASK Italian’s expert friend is taking part in the ASK Italian Grand Tour to raise £250,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. Throughout September, the tour will visit every ASK Italian restaurant in the country collecting funds raised for the charity. For more information visithttp://www.askitaliangrandtour.co.uk/