Gino D’Acampo’s happy home
- Credit: Alamy
The charismatic celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo loves Hertfordshire almost as much as he does freshly-cooked pasta and tomato sauce
Presenter and chef Gino D’Acampo has been Italy’s number one Anglophile for nearly 20 years, and for the majority of that time – through his career as TV cook and winner of 2009’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here – the effervescent D’Acampo has called Hertfordshire home.
The bubbly Italian accent leaves you in no doubt of his birthplace (Naples, to be exact), but after honing his talents in kitchens across Europe, D’Acampo moved to London in 1995, aged just 19, to work in the Orchard Restaurant in Hampstead. He was continuing his family’s culinary lineage; his grandfather was the head chef for Costa Cruises.
Committed to his culinary roots, D’Acampo has gradually earned a reputation for specialising in simple, traditional Italian food. He now has his own ingredient range and a newly-opened restaurant Gino D’Acampo: My Pasta Bar; both business interests he balances with his TV work, which include frequent appearances as culinary expert on This Morning.
Aside from his showbiz career and skills in the kitchen, D’Acampo is vocal about his passion for living in the ‘beautiful location’ of Hertfordshire with his wife Jessica and their three children. The 38-year-old’s love affair with the area began as soon as he saw a house he loved in Borehamwood more than a decade ago.
‘I’ve always been very lucky that the first place that I lived in was Borehamwood. I loved the area so much that the second house was also in Borehamwood. The third was in Elstree. So you can definitely say I love the area!’
The last of these houses was bought for half a million pounds-plus and was, as he laughs, ‘in a bad state and needed a lot of work’. But the work has mostly been done, and D’Acampo would happily talk about his house all day. The enthusiasm with which he talks about most things is infectious, but his new home is his absolute favourite topic of conversation. ‘I love it!’ he says with a grin. ‘We have a big garden; there’s a swimming pool, and we keep chickens. I love them. I love getting up in the morning and collecting the eggs.’
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But it’s not just his restored home that keeps D’Acampo in the county. ‘We have wonderful, friendly neighbours,’ he adds. ‘The schools are excellent for the kids and there are nice shops, too. I go out riding my mountain bike at the weekend. There’s lots for us to do.’
The main question for a chef, though, has to be: what is his favourite restaurant in the area? ‘That is the Italian Zinco, in Shenley Road in Borehamwood,’ he says without hesitation. ‘I also like the Wellington pub (around the corner from Zinco on Theobald Street) for a pint of Guinness!’
Surprisingly, he is not always the one at the chopping board at home. ‘Not always. On a Sunday, Jessie will cook for all of us, and we all really look forward to it.’ And it is a combined effort when the family hosts dinner parties. ‘I much prefer them to flashy showbiz bashes,’ he says. ‘I’d much prefer to be at home with my family than go out.’
D’Acampo can be lured out of the house to support a cause he believes in. Always keen to promote Italian cuisine, the chef recently took part in the 65th-anniversary celebrations for the renowned London café Bar Italia, one of Soho’s most famous landmarks. To support the fourth-generation Italian owners, D’Acampo presented a pasta-cooking demonstration.
‘Food isn’t a job to me; it is a lifestyle and a belief,’ he explains. ‘So I love spreading the word about Italian food. I do it in any way that I can. I want to show people that it is easy to cook fantastic meals with basic but tasty ingredients. Anyone can do it!’ What is his number-one cooking tip for all those wanting to get more involved in the kitchen? ‘I often say that people should cook from the heart. And you should only cook when you’re happy – it really makes a difference to be in a frame of mind to enjoy what you are doing. People should also never be afraid to try new things – you’ll be surprised and delighted at what you can achieve, and the choice has never been greater.’
For all his expertise in the kitchen, many people know D’Acampo for his reality TV appearance on the I’m a Celebrity show in the Australian jungle. Chomping on bugs and insects in the team challenges was a somewhat different taste sensation to dining on carbonara and meat balls, but that wasn’t a problem for this tackle-anything chef, who won the public’s affection and its overall vote.
‘It was an amazing thing to do and it was even better to win,’ D’Acampo explains. ‘Most people knew me only through daytime TV, so to be on prime-time in the jungle was totally different and took me to a whole new audience. So it was great that they voted for me.’ However, roughing it on jungle fare without the ability to cook for weeks did have a major downside for him: ‘Food is my passion and I missed it terribly; talking about it, buying it, cooking it.’
Tellingly, D’Acampo says the biggest lesson was not about his own endeavours, but what he discovered once he returned to England. ‘I suppose one of the most important things I learnt from the experience was that life goes on without me – my family, my business, they could all carry on without me being there. It was a big lesson for me.’
What the jungle experience did most vitally for D’Acampo, though, was expose him to public attention to the point that more than 15 years since he made Hertfordshire home, his profile has never been bigger.
‘That was the best thing,’ he says. ‘It meant from the moment I got out, I have been so busy – busier than ever. And long may it continue!’