He pauses a beat and adds: “So we threw that away…” The angelic Mia, seven, stars with him in TV adverts for the range that the irrepressible This Morning chef has created with supermarket chain Iceland. “I’m upstaged by my own daughter,” he moans. “She’s so cute.” Gino claims he wasn’t originally going to appear in the ads himself. “Iceland told me they would get someone who looks like me to appear in them,” he says, adding: “One of the suggestions was Anthony Worrall Thompson… So I said, I’m doing the adverts!”
Other family members get in on the act, in spirit at least, including his grandfather and mother who he credits as the creators of My Nonno’s Cannelloni and My Mamma’s Lasagne.
“I wish I could tell you what my mother would make of the finished product,” he says. “But she’s no longer with us.
“My mother would never say anything I cooked for her was great. She was always a ‘Yeah, but’ person. When she tasted my food, I used to say to her ‘Don’t tell me too straight, lie to me!’ She couldn’t even understand why I was on television. She would say ‘How can you make a plate of pasta and end up on television? Italian people make pasta everyday and nobody notices.’”
As a young boy, Gino worked in his grandfather’s restaurant kitchen, and fell in love with cooking. After training at catering college, he moved to London at the age of 19.
Gino D’Acampo serves up a dish on ITV show Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape
Gino hit the West End launch for his Real Italian Food range like a saucy whirlwind, flashing smiles, fielding questions and cracking jokes.
He’s charming and endearing, an easy man to like; and so naturally warm you fear he might defrost the grub with his very presence.
Some of the audience at central London’s Icetank venue seem disappointed that he manages to keep his clothes on throughout the proceedings.
But for all his clowning, he is deadly serious. Iceland may be launching his selection of dishes but it’s his name on the packaging .
“Try the Tiramisu,” he insists, waving a coffee-laced serving so delicious Gregg Wallace would probably demolish it in one mouthful and then come back for seconds. “They’re selling it for zero margin, because I didn’t want anything to cost more than £3. It costs you £3 to buy and Iceland £3 to produce,” he says.
Try pitching that on Dragons’ Den. But Iceland boss Richard Walker confirms it. The cheapest offerings are flatbreads at £1.50 a pop. Nothing is dearer than £3, not even the spicy pizza with its hot sausage topping.
Gino D’Acampo with This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby
Naples-born Gino (full name Gennaro), has gone for authenticity to the extent of insisting that each of his dishes had to be made in Italy. I didn’t want it to be produced in a soulless factory,” he says. “I wanted everything cooked in a huge kitchen by Italian people using Italian ingredients so it’s the best that it can be.”
He included meatballs “because they are Mia’s favourite and they’re the only things that shut her up!”
Gino, 43, defends frozen food with a passion. “It really p****s me off when people say freezer food must be cheap. That’s crazy! It’s the ultimate way to preserve the taste. My mother was a nurse and twice a week she would cook big batches and then freeze it to have throughout the week.
“That’s why I teamed up with Iceland. It’s their speciality.”
Negotiations were hard, though. “I’ve never had so many arguments with people,” Gino says. “But everything had to be right – the ingredients, the packaging, the prices.”
He insists he isn’t just another TV chef cashing in on his fame. “I’d love everyone to try authentic Italian food,” he says. “Yes, I could do it through books and TV shows but this is better, you get the food right there on your plate.”
He talks like a man on a mission. He’s a force of nature…and consequently hard to control.
When we chat afterwards, he tells me not only where he lives but his address in Hoddesdon, Herts, and how to find it, to the obvious consternation of his assistants.
You feel for the producers on This Morning who must constantly worry about his next indiscretion. He famously struggled to recall the English phrase “up the duff”, reducing Holly and Phil to hysterics by innocently (he claims) saying “up the muff” instead. “I thought that was more accurate,” he smiles.
Gino D’Acampo attends the BRIT Awards 2015 with wife Jessica
He did it again with the Italian saying “if my grandmother had wheels she would have been a bike”. He says: “I didn’t understand why they were laughing so much. I didn’t know that here a bike has another meaning. I wasn’t saying my Nonna was a woman of easy virtue… but then she did have 11 children.”
No wonder the public loves him. “They say things like, ‘Can you talk to me, I want to hear if your accent is real…’ or if they’ve seen Celebrity Juice they might ask ‘Are you really from Sheffield?’.” To relax at home, he plays guitar or watches “any football”. He loves English pubs, and is partial to a pint of Guinness and pork scratchings. British sitcoms are his top TV choice, especially Only Fools And Horses and Gavin And Stacey.
Gino met wife Jessica when he was 19 and married her in 2002. They have three children, Luciano, 17, Rocco, 14, and Mia.
What would Jess say was your worst quality, I ask?
“That I moan too much. And I’m too pedantic about things. But my best is I never give up!”
Gino’s Iceland food range is on sale now. He’ll refresh it every six months and start rolling out the brand around the world next year. Spain first. Then the States? Don’t put it past him!