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Giorgio Locatelli is the New Judge on Masterchef Italia

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Giorgio Locatelli is the New Judge on Masterchef Italia

Britain’s favourite Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli will be hitting screens in his native Italy as he appears on MasterChef Italia, beginning on SKY One, Thursday 17 January.

Taking a brief departure from Locanda Locatelli, the 55-year-old London restaurateur is all set to return to his roots as a MasterChef judge. He will, however, be in the unusual position of returning to his home country as a relative unknown. His name is all over Italian news and he joins fellow judges, American/Italian Joe Bastianich and Italian chefs Antonino Canavacciuolo and Bruno Barbieri on the panel.

courtesy of MN Italia e Sky Uno

Having left his family’s Italian restaurant as a young man to work at the Savoy some 30 years ago, he has yet to prove his culinary worth to his fellow compatriots despite having already been awarded the Commendatore OMRI for services to Italian gastronomy, the equivalent of a knighthood.

Locatelli has become a familiar face on both the box and bookshelves of many British homes. Whether scooting around Sicily on two wheels or teaching audiences to make pasta like his grandma he is a natural in front of camera. Despite entertaining celebrities like Kate Moss and Keira Knightly at his restaurant, or sending the Royal Family his famous amaretti at Christmas, he remains firmly grounded. Ever Italian, Locatelli wears his heart on his sleeve with mentions of his late grandmother, who taught him how to cook, often bringing him to tears.

The likeable chef describes Locanda Locatelli, which he opened with his British wife Plaxy in 2002, as "a little piece of Italy in London" with British and French influences. Maintaining Italian flavours he uses ingredients from around the world emphasising British openness to adaptability. Simple unfussy Italian cooking forms the heart of the menu, with antipasti like fresh burrata cheese, pumpkin, rocket, hazelnuts and primi, thyme pasta parcels filled with pumpkin, amaretti, butter, sage and oats and rustic main courses like rabbit leg, Parma ham, polenta and char-grilled radicchio, while desserts riff on Italian favourites like Tonka bean pannacotta, poached mandarin, bitter mandarin sauce and thyme biscuit crumble.

Chefs are increasingly leaving the kitchen to step into the TV spotlight. In Giorgio’s case, he first started out of necessity to avoid financial crisis after a gas explosion wiped out his newly refurbished restaurant a few years ago. A trauma that literally made him go grey overnight.

This will be his first public exposure on Italian television with the chance to get his name known at a national level - a far departure from growing up in his family-owned restaurant in the lakeside village of 1000 people in Corgeno, 35 miles from Milan.  

courtesy of MN Italia e Sky Uno

With his easy-going character, ready smile, flock of grey hair and anglicised accent, he’s sure to charm his fellow natives. What sort of judge will he be? “I don’t yet know. I’ll try to be as natural as possible. I want to see the guys grow. My advice would be to remain the same, and think about what they have inside every once in a while. They have to work hard to do this work.”

One thing is for sure, he’s already got one fan ready and waiting in the wings. Mama Locatelli, who will not only be happy to see her son get his unruly locks tamed for TV but also appearing, at long last, on her screen, in Italian!

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