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CHEF JONATHAN ARTHUR ASK THE CHEF

I have always seemed to find myself by accident or design, in a kitchen. As the youngest child of a farming family in Cornwall I was always the one helping my mother make butter, bread and of course pasties. As a teenager in school we were allowed to chose between metalwork or domestic science, as the former was taught by a notorious sadist and the latter was full of girls and I was the only boy in the cooking class . . . more info

Q: Whom do you most admire for their achievements?

A: I'll name two. First Ermes Malpighi, from very humble beginnings, he has become the biggest producer of traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena and its biggest promoter. Second Vittorio Innocenti who gave up his job as a philosophy professor to take over the family vineyard to make wonderful wine. Both have devoted themselves to maintain a culinary tradition, not for the money but out of passion for what they produce.

Q: Who is your favourite chef?

A: Alastair Little is someone who I greatly respect, his cook book Keep it Simple (same as the AA motto) is very good. He has both a very sympathetic and intellectual approach to food.

Q: With whom would you most like to have dinner?

A: We have lots of people to dinner throughout the year, this evening I'm cooking for nine, (as some are Catholics and this is Ash Wednesday no meat). My preferred guests are good fun and interesting without being pompous. Luckily there are lots like that around here.

Q: What would be your desert island disk?

A: Nabuco by Giuseppe Verdi

Q: What is your favourite British food?

A: Pies and pasties - I was brought up on them so they remind me of my childhood home.

Q: What is your favourite Italian food?

A: That's a difficult one as food is so seasonal here. In the summer I would be looking forward to the Autumn mushrooms, now I can't wait for all the spring vegetables. I think my favourite would have to be the Pecorino sheep's cheese, in fact as soon as I've done this I am going to snack on some. The answers could get shorter now.

Q: What is your favourite World food?

A: Stir fried veg'.

Ever fancied a cooking holiday? Ever fancied learning
to make bread - www.cookingholidays.co.uk

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: Being paid to take interesting people to lovely places and eating delicious food with them.

Q: How long have you lived and / or worked in Italy?

A: Twenty years full time but back and forth a lot before then.

Q: How would you describe Italy to someone who's never visited it?

A: It's loud, colourful, cultured, civilized and surprisingly well organized.

Q: What are, to you, Italy's main attractions?

A: When you live here you never stop learning about it, especially its history and culture, my local town Cortona has been continuously inhabited for 2700 years.

Q: What's the best thing about Italy?

A: In most other countries visitors are tolerated to a greater or lesser degree, here they are truly welcomed as if their presence is a personal compliment to Italians

Q: And the worst?

A: The bureaucracy can get to you.

Q: When did you first move to Italy and has it changed since you first arrived?

A: I first started spending a lot of time in Italy in the seventies, women were always chaperoned, people were a lot poorer, it was almost third world.

Q: At what sort of place do you regularly go to eat?

A: I tend to eat in the less expensive trattorias, the choice is limited but the food is always simple and fresh.

Q: Do you miss living in the UK?

A: Not really.

Q: What do you miss most about not living in the UK?

A: Sunday papers

Q: What's your favourite local dish?

A: Tagliatta, an inch thick T-bone steak, grilled then sliced.

Q: When did you first get involved in cooking holidays?

A: About ten years ago.

Q: What sort of people have you looked after on cooking holidays?

A: All sorts, mostly British and Americans but from all walks of life and all ages.

Q: From time to time there must be a guest on a cooking holiday who thinks they know more than you. How do you handle them?

A: Some times there are people who do know more than me, so I try to learn. The job of a teaching Chef is not to show how good they are, but to help other people understand how good they can be. So if someone knows something I don't find it a threat to my ego.

Q: Do you think people who don't know how to cook are wasting their time and yours going on a cooking holiday?

A: Not in the least, cooking has so many sides to it - its history, cultural and agricultural origins, the science of it. If you are no longer interested in food you are no longer interested in life.

To find out more about Jonathan's cooking holidays visit www.italywithrelish.it

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