Gennaro Contaldo visits Jamie’s Italian in St Albans

Gennaro Contaldo in the Kitchen

Gennaro Contaldo in the Kitchen - Credit: Archant

After he darts out of the kitchen, the man in a pinny halts mid-stride and grimaces at my black high-heeled boots before glancing back up at my face.

“They may not be appropriate,” he informs me before dashing back into the hustle-bustle of the restaurant.

So what is suitable footwear in the kitchen of Jamie’s Italian in St Albans’ Chequer Street?

Apparently, the shoes of choice are both flat-heeled and unglamorous, and akin to wearing a small rubber dinghy wrapped around your feet.

Crocs, apparently, are not just for gardening in, staff at Jamie’s Italian claim they are ideal for the kitchen as they are tough, protect their feet against any spillages, and have good grip.

But I have no time to explain to the whirlwind that is Gennaro Contaldo that Crocs would clash with my skirt.

Because if it can’t be sautéed, doused in white wine, plucked fresh from a garden or taste better with garlic, the respected – and Croc-clad – chef is not interested.

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“I cook you a Debbie special!” he tells me as I tread carefully across the floor.

Within minutes he has made me the most delicious pasta dish – with mussels, squid, olives and squash. Fresh ingredients are a must, he informs me.

Gennaro paid a special visit to St Albans last Thursday to show the Herts Advertiser around the recently opened delicatessen; an expansion of the popular Jamie’s Italian restaurant right next door.

Gennaro is widely known as the Italian who taught celebrity chef Jamie Oliver all he knows about cooking.

On his Food Tube channel, where you can see Gennaro in action, Jamie Oliver describes him as his “London dad, a force of nature and great cook”.

Like Jamie, he has appeared on many television shows, including alongside his good friend Antonio Carluccio – who phones Gennaro while he is at the deli – on Two Greedy Italians.

According to Gennaro, “Cooking is how I express myself.”

And it is clear he supports Jamie’s expansion in St Albans: “Every chef is so passionate at Jamie’s Italian; it is incredible the vibe here. And the deli is an extra boost to the restaurant – that has brought so much demand that we needed this deli.

“We are like a big family. This is what we are all about. This is the third Jamie’s Italian deli to open, and I love St Albans. It’s such a beautiful city. I always go to the Cathedral when I’m here.”

But then the grand tour of the deli comes to a sudden pause as gregarious Gennaro spots twin babies – eight-month-old Polly and Fleur Burgess of St Albans – in a pram.

Gennaro, a proud father of six, has twins also and is as at ease with babies as he is flipping pizza dough in the kitchen.

The twins’ grandmother Liz Ford said: “It’s wonderful to meet this amazing man.”

Mum Carolyn added: “It’s brilliant. He’s the first famous person my twins have met.”

The modern deli offers coffee, freshly baked cakes and muffins. It also sells bottles of wine, beer and limoncello, lemon liqueur, all the way from Gennaro’s home town on the Amalfi Coast.