Antonino Cannavacciuolo

Antonino Cannavacciuolo

Antonino Cannavacciuolo

In his adopted home of Piedmont, Antonio Cannavacciuolo effortlessly combines the dishes of north and south Italy at his beautiful two Michelin-starred restaurant Villa Crespi. He is also one of Italy’s most well known chefs, thanks to his successful television career.

Italians are generally very patriotic. They’re not just proud of their country; it’s the particular region they grew up in which holds the most importance. This is why so many chefs decide to open restaurants in their hometowns – it lets them cook with the ingredients that sparked their passion in the first place. But instead of staying put, Antonio Cannavacciuolo took his love for southern Neapolitan cuisine to the north of Italy and found a way to combine the two traditions to create something new and exciting.

There weren’t many toys around in Vico Equense when Antonino was growing up, so he played with food instead. He would always help his grandmother in the kitchen, preparing beans and peas for dinner, and can still remember waking up to the enticing smell of pasta sauce every Sunday. His father worked in a professional kitchen, and when Antonino was seven he was taken along to see what it was like. The brigade of busy chefs and smoky surroundings looked like a theatre to his young eyes, and he instantly fell in love.

When he was a little older Antonino studied at the local catering college, where his father was also a tutor. He finished when he was seventeen, and travelled all over Naples for work, gaining experience at Vesuvio and San Vincenzo in Sorrento cooking the traditional food of the region. In 1995 he moved to Illhaeusern in France to work at the famed three-Michelin-starred restaurant Auberge de l’Ill with the legendary Paul Haeberlin. It was here that he really learnt what it took to be a world-class chef.

After another placement at the Grand Hotel Quisisana in Capri, Antonino decided to work over the summer at a hotel restaurant across the other side of the country in Piedmont. It was here that he met his wife-to-be, Cinzia, whose family owned the hotel. He decided to stay, and in 1998 they opened Villa Crespi in a building that was an historical villa on the shores of Lake Orta. In 2003, it was awarded its first Michelin star. The second came in 2006, along with countless other awards.

Despite a lifelong love for the food of Naples, being in Piedmont didn’t stop Antonino from cooking some of his favourite dishes. He began to combine his childhood memories with the fantastic produce and traditions of northern Italy. ‘I appreciate all sorts of cooking,’ he says. ‘I have always made fusion food in Piedmont by combining the different ingredients of the area with those from my youth, until I find something that works.’ His Risotto with oil, clams, thyme and lemon combines the northern rice dish with the southern Italians’ love of clams, while a snail stew pays homage to his time in France and one of Sicily’s famous dishes. Antonino believes his father’s technical expertise and rigorous work ethic, combined with his mother’s love of preparing warm, comforting dishes were both very important in shaping his cooking style, and says their lessons were just as important as any he learnt in the kitchen.

In 2003, around the time Antonino received his first Michelin star, he was invited to host a cooking show on Italian television, elevating his status to a nationally recognised chef. His natural demeanour in front of the camera led to more TV work, and in 2013 he became the first host of the Italian version of Kitchen Nightmares. Antonino accepted the role as he had experienced all the ups and downs of running a restaurant himself, and wanted to help others in any way he could. His advice was sound, and every single one of the businesses he helped turned their fortunes around and became a success.